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Artistic approach to Knowledge

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Savitri Immersion Workshop 2012 at Lodi

Last Updated: August 17, 2012


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An Intoduction to the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the mantric poem Savitri,

by Rod Hemsell


Savitriis a mantric transmission of experiences of yoga written by Sri Aurobindo that—through reading aloud, mantrically—encourages purification of the mind, vital and physical by the Divine Shakti. The structure and process of Savitri belongs to the traditions of Tantric Hinduism and Tantric Buddhism, with deeper roots in Raja Yoga and Rig Veda, and as such forms a central aspect of Sri Aurobindo’s synthesis of yoga. It provides a vehicle for the working of the Divine Shakti in us to transform consciousness. And what are the goals of that transformation? As Sri Aurobindo says,

The first result will not be the creation of the true supermind (vijnyana), but the organization of a predominantly or even a completely intuitive mentality sufficiently developed to take the place of the ordinary mentality and of the logical reasoning intellect of the developed human being. The most prominent change will be the transmutation of the thought heightened and filled by that substance of concentrated light, concentrated power,, concentrated joy of the light and the power (anandamaya purusa) and that direct accuracy which are the marks of a true intuitive thinking (vivek buddhi, drishti, shruti, etc).


The original texts of Sri Aurobindo referred to in this presentation are The Synthesis of Yoga and Savitri, which may be accessed on line at:

Additional resources that might be of interest, by Rod Hemsell, may be found on line at

The Poetry of Sri Aurobindo - Mantra, Metrics, and Meaning.

The Philosophy of Evolution

Evolution and the Earth

Heidegger and Sri Aurobindo


1.      Lama Thupten Yeshe -  Introduction to Tantra:The Transformation of Desire

Desire is the movement ofprana in life. Shakti is a kind of subtle lightening that cuts through normal patterns of thought and behavior and shows us other aspects of ourselves.…

“Before we can board the lightening vehicle of Tantra, we have to understand why it is both necessary and possible to abandon our ordinary limited view of ourselves and to generate in its place the enlightened self identity of a fully evolved being.”

There is a Tibetan master speaking truth, in English, and speaking truth in the Aurobindonian context.

“We have to realize that our low opinion of ourselves which keeps us trapped in the cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction, only arises because we are ignorant of our basic, essentially pure, nature.”

I would add that the dissatisfaction doesn’t arise only because we are ignorant of our essential nature, it arises so that we can become conscious of our essential nature. It has a positive aspect. It helps us exceed our limitations. In any case, here is a statement of the classical distinction between purusa and prakriti that we find in Patanjali’s yoga sutras and in Sri Aurobindo. The pranic movement of desire (prakriti) attracts the pure self, which is motionless and empty (purusa), creating illusion and suffering.

“By generating the prerequisite renunciation, bodhichitta and wisdom, and by delving into the clear nature of our mind, we create the space in which true self transformation can take place. Yet it is not enough merely to know why such self transformation is necessary and possible. We must also generate the strength and confidence that will enable us to follow this radical approach to fulfillment.”

Adherence, devotion, will, surrender, persistence, practice - the integral yoga.

“In other words we need to be inspired. We have to know that the attainment of enlightenment, completion, buddhahood, totality, or whatever we want to call it, is not only a theoretical possibility but something  that people like us can and do actually achieve. In the Buddhist Tantric tradition, the source of this inspiration is the guru. And the root of the Tantric path is unifying oneself with this source of inspiration through the practice of guru yoga.”

Surrender to the Divine Mother.  Unification of the purusa and Iswara. Just some examples of the close similarity between Mahayana Yoga Tantra and the teaching of Sri Aurobindo. Why is the guru essential? We have human limitations. Only a being who has exceeded those human limitations can bridge the gap. Each higher level of evolution turns back on the previous level to raise it qualitatively to the next level. This is an obvious pattern in the evolution of civilization through religion, ethics and law, and the eventual effort of a society to conform to the higher standards that are established by religion, law, education, etc. Then almost everyone identifies with the values that were previously embodied by a few. There is an ascent and then a turning back, a descent, to raise the general level of development. This pattern of evolution and social development was identified by Plato in the Republic and by Sri Aurobindo in The Human Cycle and in his other writings on evolution.


2.      The Two Liberations

(Excerpts from The Synthesis of Yoga by Sri Aurobindo)

For certain ways of thinking liberation is a throwing off of all nature, a silent state of pure being, a nirvana or extinction, a dissolution of the natural existence into some indefinable Absolute, moksha. But an absorbed and immersed bliss, a wideness of actionless peace, a release of self-extinction or a self-drowning in the Absolute is not our aim. We shall give to the idea of liberation (mukti), only the connotation of that inner change which is common to all experience of this kind, essential to perfection and indispensable to spiritual freedom. We shall find that it then implies always two things, a rejection and an assumption, a negative and a positive side; the negative movement of freedom is a liberation from the principal bonds, the master=knots of the lower soul-nature, the positive side an opening or growth into the higher spiritual existence. But what are these master-knots – other and deeper twistings than the instrumental knots of the mind, heart, psychic life-force?  We find them pointed out for us and insisted on with great force and a constant emphatic repetition in the Gita; they are four: desire, ego, the dualities, and the three gunas of Nature; for to be desireless, egoless, equal of mind and soul and spirit is in the idea of the Gita to be free, mukta. We may accept this description, for everything essential is covered by its amplitude.

The traditional way of knowledge (raja yoga, jnana yoga) eliminates individual and universe. The Absolute it seeks after is featureless, indefinable, relationless, not this, not that, neti, neti. And yet we can say that it is One, that it is Infinite, that it is Ineffable Bliss, Consciousness, Existence. Although unknown to the mind, yet through our individual being (which is essentially That) and through the names and forms of the universe we can approach the realization of the supreme Self that is Brahman, and by the realization of the Self we come to a certain realization also of this utter Absolute of which our true Self is the essential form in our consciousness (swarupa). These are the devices the human mind is compelled to use if it is to form to itself any conception at all of the transcendent and unconditioned Absolute. The system of negation is indispensable to it in order to get rid of its own definitions and limited experience; it is obliged to escape through a vague Indefinite into the Infinite. For it lives in a closed prison of constructions and representations that are necessary for its action but are not the self-existent truth either of Matter or Life or Mind or Spirit. But if we can once cross beyond the mind’s frontier twilight into the vast plane of supramental Knowledge, these devices cease to be indispensable.

Supermind has quite another, a positive and direct and living experience of the supreme Infinite. The Absolute is beyond personality and beyond impersonality, and yet it is both the Impersonal and the supreme Person and all persons. The Absolute is beyond the distinction of unity and multiplicity, and yet it is the One and the innumerable Many in all the universes. It is beyond all limitation by quality and yet it is not limited by a qualityless void but is too all infinite qualities.  It is the individual soul and all souls and more of them; it is the formless Brahman and the universe. It is the cosmic and the supracosmic spirit, the supreme Lord, the supreme Self, the supreme Purusha and supreme Shakti, the Ever Unborn who is endlessly born, the Infinite who is innumerably finite, the multitudinous One, the complex Simple, the many-sided Single, the Word of the Silence Ineffable, the impersonal omnipresent Person, the Mystery, translucent in highest consciousness to its own spirit, but to a lesser consciousness veiled in its own exceeding light and impenetrable forever. (The Object of Knowledge II.1)

The liberation from ego, the liberation from desire together found the central spiritual freedom. The sense, the idea, the experience that I am a separately self-existent being in the universe, and the forming of consciousness and force of being into the mould of that experience are the root of all suffering, ignorance, and evil. And it is so because that falsifies both in practice and in cognition the whole real truth of things; it limits the being, limits the consciousness, limits the power of our being, limits the bliss of being; this limitation, again, produces a wrong way of existence, wrong way of consciousness, wrong way of using the power of our being and consciousness, and wrong, perverse, and contrary forms of the delight of existence. The soul limited in being and self-isolated in its environment feels itself no longer in unity and harmony with its Self…it finds itself at odds with the universe, in conflict and disaccord with other beings who are its other selves, but whom it treats as not-self; and so long as this disaccord and disagreement last, it cannot possess its world and it cannot enjoy the universal life, but is full of unease, fear, afflictions of all kinds, in a painful struggle to preserve and increase itself and possess its surroundings, - for to possess its world is the nature of infinite spirit and the necessary urge in all being. (The Liberation of the Spirit IV.8)

Nature’s essential contributions are two, the gunas and the dualities. This inferior action of Nature in which we live has certain essential qualitative modes which constitute the whole basis of its inferiority. The constant effect of these modes on the soul in its natural powers of mind, life and body is a discordant and divided experience, a strife of opposites, dwandwa, a motion in all its experience and an oscillation between or a mixture of constant pairs of contraries, of combining positives and negatives, dualities. A complete liberation from the ego and will of desire must bring with it a superiority to the qualitative modes of the inferior Nature,traigunyatitya, a release from this mixed and discordant experience, a cessation or solution of the dual action of Nature. But on this side too there are two kinds of freedom. A liberation from Nature in a quiescent bliss of the spirit is thefirst form of release. A farther liberation of the Nature into divine quality and spiritual power of world-experience fills the supreme calm with the supreme kinetic bliss of knowledge, power, joy, and mastery. A divine unity of supreme spirit and its supreme nature is the integral liberation.

This transcendence is usually sought by a withdrawal from the action of the lower nature. That withdrawal brings with it a stressing of the tendency to inaction. …There is a liberation of the soul from the nature which is gained by inaction, but not a liberation of the soul in nature perfect and self-existent whether in action or inaction. The question then arises whether such a liberation and perfection are possible and what may be the condition of this perfect freedom. …The ordinary idea is that it is not possible because all action is of the lower gunas, necessarily defective, sadosham, caused by the motion, inequality, want of balance, unstable strife of the gunas; but when these unequal gunas fall into perfect equilibrium, all action of Nature ceases and the soul rests in quietude. The divine Being, we may say, may either exist in his silence or act in Nature through her instrumentation (prakriti), but in that case must put on the appearance of her strife and imperfection. That may be true of the ordinary deputed action of the Divine in the human spirit with its present relations of soul to nature in an embodied imperfect mental being, but it is not true of the divine nature of perfection.

The strife of the gunas is only a representation in the imperfection of the lower nature; what the three gunas stand for are three essential powers of the Divine which are not merely existent in a perfect equilibrium of quietude, but unified in a perfect consensus of divine action. Tamas in the spiritual being becomes a divine calm, which is not an inertia and incapacity of action, but a perfect power, sakti, holding in itself all its capacity and capable of controlling and subjecting to the law of calm even the most stupendous and enormous activity; rajas becomes a self-effecting initiating sheer Will of the spirit, which is not desire, endeavor, striving passion (these are its lower characteristics), but the same perfect power of being, sakti, capable of an infinite, imperturbable and blissful action. Sattwa becomes not the modified mental light, prakasa, but the self-existent light of the divine being, jyoti, which is the soul of the perfect power of being and illumines in their unity the divine quietude and the divine will of action. The ordinary liberation gets the still divine light in the divine quietude, but the integral perfection will aim at this greater triune unity.

In the lower nature the dualities are the inevitable effect of of the play of the gunas on the soul affected by the formations of the sattwic, rajasic and tamasic ego. The knot of this duality is an ignorance which is unable to seize on the spiritual truth of things and concentrates on the imperfect appearances, but meets them not with mastery of their inner truth, but with a strife and a shifting balance of attraction and repulsion, capacity and incapacity, liking and disliking, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, acceptance and repugnance; all life is represented to us as a tangle of these things, of the pleasant and unpleasant, the beautiful and the unbeautiful, truth and falsehood, fortune and misfortune, success and failure, good and evil, the inextricable double web of Nature.

The seeker of liberation gets rid of attachment, throws away from his soul the dualities, but as the dualities appear to be the whole act, stuff and frame of life, this release would seem to be most easily compassed by a withdrawal from life, whether a physical withdrawal, so far as that is possible while in the body, or an inner retirement, a refusal of sanction, a liberating distaste, vairagya, for the whole action of Nature. There is a separation of the soul from Nature (purusa from prakriti). Then the soul watches seated above and unmoved, the strife of the gunas in the natural being and regards as an impassive witness the pleasure and pain of the mind and body.

But this rejection is not the last possible word of liberation. The integral liberation comes when this passion for release, founded on distaste or vairagya, is itself transcended; the soul is then liberated both from attachment to the lower action of nature and from all repugnance to the cosmic action of the Divine. This liberation gets its completeness when the spiritual gnosis, (vijnyana), can act with a supramental knowledge and reception of the action of Nature and a supramental luminous will in initiation. The gnosis discovers the spiritual sense in Nature, God in things, the soul of good in all things that have the contrary appearance; that soul is delivered in them and out of them, the perversion of the imperfect or contrary forms fall away or are transformed into their higher divine truth, - even as the gunas go back to their divine principles - and the spirit lives in a universal, infinite and absolute Truth, Good, Beauty, Bliss which is the supramental or ideal divine Nature. The liberation of the Nature becomes one with the liberation of the spirit, and there is founded in the integral freedom the integral perfection. (The Liberation of Nature IV.9)


3.      A Summary Outline of the Elements and Methods of the Integral Yoga Siddhi

(from The Synthesis of Yoga, IV.10-11)

A. The fundamental elements and requisites of perfection, siddhi: samata, shakti, virya, daivi prakriti, shraddha, vijnyana, and B.  the Four Methods

A.1 The first necessity is some fundamental poise of the soul both in its essential and its natural being regarding and meeting the things, impacts and workings of Nature. This poise we shall arrive at by growing into a perfect equality, samata. The self, spirit, or Brahman is one in all and therefore one to all. Equality is a term of consciousness which brings into the whole of our being and nature the eternal tranquility of the Infinite.

A.2 The next necessity of perfection is to raise all the active parts of the human nature to that highest condition and working pitch of their power and capacity, shakti.

A.3 The dynamical force of the temperament, character and soul nature in us, virya, which makes the power of our members effective in action and gives them their type and direction, has to be freed from its limitations, enlarged, rounded so that the whole manhood in us may become the basis of a divine manhood, when the Purusha, the divine Soul, shall act fully in this human instrument and shine fully through this human vessel.

A.4 To divinize the perfected nature, we have to call in the Divine Power, or Shakti, to replace our limited human energy so that this may be shaped into the image of and filled with the force of a greater infinite energy, daivi prakriti, bhagavat shakti.

A.5 The perfection will grow in the measure in which we can surrender ourselves, first, to the guidance and then to the direct action of the Power, Shakti, and of the Master, Iswara, of our being and our works to whom it belongs, and for this purpose faith, shraddha, is the essential, faith is the great motor-power of our being in our aspirations to perfection, - here a faith in God and the Shakti which shall begin in the heart and understanding, but shall take possession of all our nature, all its consciousness, all its dynamic motive-force.

A.6 The next step of perfection will be the evolution of the mental into the Gnostic being. This evolution is effected by a breaking beyond the mental limitation, a stride upward into the next higher plane or region of our being, and a conversion of all that we are into the terms of this greater consciousness, vijnyana. The Gnostic perfection, spiritual in its nature, is to be accomplished here in the body and takes life in the physical world as one of its fields, even though the gnosis opens to us possession of planes and worlds beyond the material universe. The change will be effected by bringing in the law of the gnostic Purusha, vijnyanamaya purusa, and of that into which it opens, the Anandamaya, into the physical consciousness and its members.

B. The Four Methods

The actual process and experience of Yoga manifests the possibility of several methods or movements none of which by itself produces the entire result in practice, however it may seem at first sight that logically each should or might be adequate. And when we learn to insist on no particular method as exclusively the right one and leave the whole movement to a greater guidance, we find that the divine Lord of the Yoga commissions his Shakti to use one or the other at different times and all in combination according to the need and turn of the being and nature.

B1 At first it might seem to be the straight and right way, to silence the mind altogether, to silence the intellect, the mental and personal will, the desire mind and the mind of emotion and sensation, and to allow in that perfect silence the Self, the Spirit, the Divine to disclose himself and leave him to illuminate the being by the supramental  light and power and Ananda. And this is indeed a great and powerful discipline. It is the calm and still mind much more readily and with a much greater purity than the mind in agitation and action that opens to the Infinite, reflects the Spirit, becomes full of the Self and awaits like a consecrated and purified temple the unveiling of the Lord of all our being and nature. It is am immense gain if we can acquire the capacity of always being able at will to command an adequate tranquility and silence of the mind free from any necessity of mental thought or movement and disturbance and, based in that silence, allow thought and will and feeling to happen in us only when the Shakti wills it and when it is needful for the divine purpose.

B.2  A second movement is one which comes naturally to those who commence the Yoga with the initiative that is proper to the way of Bhakti. It is natural to them to reject the intellect and its action and to listen for the voice, wait for the impulsion or the command, adesha, obey only the idea and will and power of the Lord within them, the divine Self and Purusha in the heart of the creature.

B.3  It is possible to adopt a more direct method, not to refer all our thought and action to the Lord secret in the heart-lotus but to the veiled truth of the Divinity above the mind and to receive all by a sort of descent from above, a descent of which we become not only spiritually but physically conscious. The siddhi or full accomplishment of this movement can only come when we are able to lift the centre of thought and conscious action above the physical brain and feel it going on in the subtle body.

B.4  A fourth method is one which suggests itself naturally to the developed intelligence. This is to develop our intellect instead of eliminating it, but with the will not to cherish its limitations, but to heighten its capacity, light, intensity, degree and force of activity until it borders on the thing that transcends it and can easily be taken up and transformed into that higher conscious action. The intellectual being too has to be taken up by the Shakti in the Yoga and raised to its fullest and its most heightened powers. This however cannot be done by the heightening and greatening of the intellectual activity alone, for that must always be limited by the original inherent defects of the mental intelligence. An intervention of the supramental energy is needed that can light up and get rid of its deficiencies of thought and will and feeling.

The widest natural action of the Shakti combines all these methods. It creates, sometimes at first, sometimes at some later, perhaps latest stage, the freedom of the spiritual silence. It opens the secret intuitive being within the mind itself and accustoms us to refer all our thought and feeling and will and action to the initiation of the Divine, the Splendor and Power who is now concealed in the heart.  It raises, when we are ready, the centre of its operations to the mental summit and opens up the supramental levels and proceeds doubly by an action from above downward filling and transforming the lower nature, and an action from below upwards raising all the energies to that which is above them till the transcendence is completed and the change of the whole system integrally effected. It takes and develops the intelligence and will and other natural powers, but brings in constantly the intuitive mind and afterwards the true supramental energy to change and enlarge their action.

The most prominent change will be the transmutation of the thought heightened and filled by that substance of concentrated light, concentrated power, concentrated joy of the light and the power and that direct accuracy which are the marks of a true intuitive thinking. The intuitive mind appears at first a lightening up of the mind’s half-lights, its probabilities and possibilities, its aspects, its uncertain certitudes, its representations, and a revealing of the truth concealed or half concealed and half manifested by these things, and in its higher action it is a first bringing of the supramental truth (vijnyana), by a nearer directness of seeing, a luminous indication or memory of the spirit’s knowledge, an intuition or looking in through the gates of the being’s secret universal self-vision and knowledge. It is a first imperfect organization of that greater light and power, imperfect because done in the mind, not based on its own native substance of consciousness, a constant communication, but not a quite immediate and constant presence. The perfect perfection lies beyond on the supramental levels and must be based on a more decisive and complete transformation of the mentality and of our whole nature.


4.      Selected Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

1.2 The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

1.3 Then the Seer (Self, Purusha) abides in His own nature.

1.4 At other times the Self appears to assume the forms of the mental modifications.

1.12 These modifications are restrained by practice and non-attachment (kriya, vairagya, samata, etc)

1.15 The consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from craving (desire) for objects seen or heard about is non-attachment (vairagya).

1.16 When there is non-thirst for even the gunas due to realization of the Purusha, that is supreme non-attachment (mukti).

1.17 Samprajnata Samadhi (distinguished contemplation, supreme wisdom) is accompanied by reasoning, reflecting, rejoicing, and pure I-am-ness (universal identity).

1.18 By the firmly convinced practice of the complete cessation of the mental modifications, Asamprajnata Samadhi (non-distinguished contemplation) is attained.

1.20 This Asamprajnata Samadhi can come through faith (shraddha), strength (virya), memory (smriti), contemplation (dhyana) or by discernment (viveka).

1.23 Or Samadhi is attained by devotion with total dedication to God (Ishvara).

1.24 Isvara is the supreme Purusha, unaffected by any afflictions, actions, fruits of action, or by any inner impressions or desires (samskaras).

1.25 In Him is the complete manifestation of the seed of omniscience.

1.26 Unconditioned by time, He is the guru of even the most ancient teachers.

1.27 The Word expressive of Ishvara is the mystic syllable Om.

1.28 To repeat it with reflection upon its meaning is an aid.

1.29 From this practice all the obstacles disappear and simultaneously dawns knowledge of the inner Self.

2.1 Accepting pain as help for purification, study of spiritual books, and surrender to the Supreme Being (Ishvara) constitute Yoga in practice (kriya yoga).

2.5 Ignorance (avidya) is regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant, and the non-self as the Self.

2.6 Egoism is the identification of the power of the seer (Purusha)  with that of the  instrument of seeing, body-mind.

2.7 Attachment is that which follows identification with pleasurable experiences.

2.8 Aversion is that which follows identification with painful experiences.

2.10 In subtle form these obstacles can be destroyed by resolving them back into their primal cause (ego, ahankara).

2.11 In the active state, they can be destroyed by meditation.

2.16 Pain that has not yet come can be avoided.

2.17 The cause of that avoidable pain is the union of the Purusha (self) and the Prakriti (nature).

2.18 The seen (Prakriti) is of the nature of the gunas and consists of the elements and sense organs, whose purpose is to provide both experience and liberation to the Purusha.

2.21 The seen (Prakriti) exists only for the sake of the seer (Purusha)

2.22 Although destroyed for him who has attained liberation, it still exists for others.

2.24 The cause of this union is ignorance.

2.25 Without this ignorance, no such union occurs. This is the independence of the Purusha.

2.26 Uninterrupted discriminative discernment (viveka buddhi) is the method for its removal.

2.27 One’s wisdom (prajna) in the final stage is sevenfold: the end of desire to know anything more, desire to avoid anything, desire to gain anything, desire to do anything, sorrow, fear, delusion.

3.1 Dharana (concentration) is the binding of the mind to one place, object, or idea.

3.2 Dhyana (meditation) is the continuous flow of cognition toward that object or idea, etc.

3.3 Samadhi (absorbed contemplation, identification) is meditation on the essential formless nature of the object as self.

3.4 The practice of these three upon one object is called samyama.

3.5 By the mastery ofsamyama comes the light of knowledge (prajnalokah, wisdom).

3.8 Even these three are external to the seedless Samadhi.

3.14 It is Prakriti (nature) that goes through latent, uprising, and unmanifested phases of evolution.

3.16 By practicing samyama on the three stages of evolution comes knowledge of past and future.

3.36 By samyama on the difference between the intellect and Purusha, knowledge of the Purusha is gained.

3.48 By samyama on the power of perception and on the essential nature, and on the correlation of the ego sense with the purpose of the sense organs, one gains mastery over them.

3.50 By samyama on the distinction between the pure reflective nature of mind (sattwa) and the Self (Purusha), supremacy over all states and forms of existence (omnipotence) is gained, as is omniscience.

3.55 The discriminative knowledge that simultaneously comprehends all objects in all conditions is the intuitive knowledge which brings liberation.

3.56 When the tranquil mind (sattwa) attains purity (suddhi) equal to that of the Purusha, there is the Absolute.

4.22 The consciousness (chit) of the Purusha is unchangeable; getting the reflection of it, the mind-stuff (chitta) becomes conscious of the Self.

4.29 He who, due to his perfect discrimination (viveka), is totally disinterested even in the highest rewards, remains in the constant discriminative discernment called dharmamegha samadhi.

4.30 From that Samadhi all afflictions and karmas cease.

4.31 Then all the coverings and impurities of knowledge are totally removed. Because of the infinity of this knowledge, what remains to be known is almost nothing.

4.32 Then the gunas terminate their sequence of transformations because they have fulfilled their purpose.

4.34 Thus, the supreme state of independence manifests while the gunas reabsorb themselves into Prakriti, having no more purpose to serve the Purusha. Or, to look at it from another angle, the power of pure consciousness settles in its own pure nature (svarupa).


5.      Concluding Reflections

In this system of Yoga, it appears that the Ishwara (1.24) is the same as the liberated Purusha (4.22-4.34). The knowledge that brings liberation is that attained by samyama or viveka buddhi, viveka drishti, the higher mind Intuition as defined above by Sri Aurobindo as a “universal self-vision and knowledge”. Although the Ishwara is identified as the Guru of gurus, and as God,  omnipotent and omniscient, He is also identified with the pure, unchangeable, independent Purusha. It is liberated from nature into pure consciousness of Self. From that poise it may still have reflections and joyful sense of Self, or it may enter into the seedless, changeless Samadhi of the Absolute. As Sri Aurobindo says, this system of Raja Yoga seems in conformity with the statement that, “ The traditional way of knowledge (raja yoga, jnana yoga) eliminates individual and universe. The Absolute it seeks after is featureless, indefinable, relationless, not this, not that, neti, neti.” The fundamental movements of Yoga to reject the ego and dualities, and to liberate the  Purusha from Prakriti into the Absolute, seem to be maintained by Sri Aurobindo, but the culmination, according to his philosophy of the supermind, is different. As he says, “Supermind has quite another, a positive and direct and living experience of the supreme Infinite. The Absolute is beyond personality and beyond impersonality, and yet it is both the Impersonal and the supreme Person and all persons. The Absolute is beyond the distinction of unity and multiplicity, and yet it is the One and the innumerable Many in all the universes. It is beyond all limitation by quality and yet it is not limited by a qualityless void but is too all infinite qualities.  It is the individual soul and all souls and more of them; it is the formless Brahmanand the universe.”

One particular statement from the two points of view makes the difference especially clear. Patanjali’s sutra says that for the liberated Purush, “the gunas terminate their sequence of transformations because they have fulfilled their purpose. Thus, the supreme state of independence manifests whilethe gunas reabsorb themselves into Prakriti, having no more purpose to serve the Purusha”(4.32-4.34). Sri Aurobindo’s view of the liberated consciousness is that, “The gnosis discovers the spiritual sense in Nature, God in things, the soul of good in all things that have the contrary appearance; that soul is delivered in them and out of them, the perversion of the imperfect or contrary forms fall away or are transformed into their higher divine truth, - even as the gunas go back to their divine principles.” For Patanjali the gunas are reabsorbed in Prakriti; for Sri Aurobindo the gunas recover their divine identity and purpose for the higher Purushottama. Patanjali’s Yoga seems to be based on the irredeemable feature of the gunas as the source of desire and illusion and the trigger for their rejection and liberation of the pure Self. For Sri Aurobindo, that is the first liberation. The second liberation is the liberation of Prakriti by the power of the divine Shakti and the transformation of the human vehicle into a liberated instrument of divine knowledge, power, and bliss.

At the beginning of The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo names the four essential requirements of the Yoga Siddhi: shastra, the knowledge of the truths, principles, powers and processes that govern the realization; utsaha, personal effort and patient and persistent practice of the principles; the guru, whose direct suggestion and example uplifts and guides the effort; and kala, the instrumentality of time, for all movements and processes have a necessary period of time for their realization. While “restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff” is the basic requirement of Yoga according to Patanjali, he seems to agree that its achievement would be aided by these essential instruments. He also agrees that virya, shraddha, mantra, and a few other psychological qualities such as kriya, which is similar to utsaha, and vairagya, which is similar to samata, and of course samadhi, are especially useful practices. It even seems that samyama, which is his most essential practice, may be similar to what Sri Aurobindo has called the higher mind or overmind Intuition, although Sri Aurobindo has identified and documented a very detailed and sophisticated range of levels of this spiritual consciousness. One essential factor, however, seems to be missing in importance in Patajali’s system, which is central to later Hindu Tantra and to Sri Aurobindo’s system, and that is Shakti. As we can see in the Four Methods outlined by Sri Aurobindo above, the importance of shakti is emphasized by him here and throughout his teachings. Shakti is the Power of the Isvara, and it is the power of the mantra; it is the force of spiritual consciousness necessary for an active spiritual transformation of life. In both Tantric Hinduism and Buddhism since about the 8th Century CE, but also in the much earlier Vedic hymns to the deities of Surya, Savitri, Soma, and Agni, this element of Yoga has been recognized as one of the most essential instruments of realization. And its primary vehicles are the guru and the mantra. Guru Yoga and Mantra Yoga have therefore been distinguished from Sutra Yoga in these traditions that seem to have emerged from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in many fundamental respects, but which have acquired, or recovered, an active purpose and power that can not only liberate the soul from illusion but also transform and uplift mind, life and body into divinely energized forms.

The more active turn of the Integral Yoga taken by Sri Aurobindo, with his special focus on the transformation of body, life and mind through the descent of the Divine Shakti into them, after the purification and liberation of the more traditional practice has been achieved, was the main emphasis of his later version of The Life Divine and of his mantric teachings in Savitri, which will be the focus of this seminar. It seems that the evolution of deity yoga, guru yoga and mantra yoga in Tibetan Buddhism has also made a similar turn, especially as it is being interpreted by the teachers in the West today. An example of this turn can perhaps be seen, as in the excerpt from Lama Yeshe, also in the commentary on Dzogchen by the Dalai Lama in an empowerment seminar in California in 2000:

Bodhichitta can be defined as an expansive state of mind that is attained as a result of training in two kinds of aspiration. One is an altruistic aspiration to benefit all sentient beings, an attitude of deep compassion. The other is the conviction that comes from reflecting on the suffering of all sentient beings and realizing that for as long as we do not attain the highest enlightenment, we will be handicapped and limited in our ability to fulfill our aspiration to benefit others. The state of mind that is induced through these twin aspirations is called bodhichitta, or the mind of enlightenment.

But it is not enough to be content with this aspiration alone. Now that altruistic ideal should be put into action, through the practices of the six perfections. In brief, the bodhisattva's way of life or practice is the union of method or skillful means and wisdom. 'Method' here refers to practices like generating the altruistic mind of enlightenment, and allowing it to motivate you to engage in skillful means for helping others, such as generosity, pure morality, patience, enthusiasm, and concentration. 'Wisdom' here means to develop and reinforce your understanding of, and insight into, emptiness.

Practitioners begin by reflecting on the empty nature of the aggregates of body and mind. Then they dissolve into emptiness not only their 'identity' - the mode of being superimposed on them by the ignorant mind - but also the very appearance of the ordinary aggregates of body and mind. Then, from within that emptiness, the practitioners arise as a pure, divine being. Taking that divine being as the focus of meditation, they then reflect again upon its empty nature. So here within one meditative state of mind you find meditation on the deity's body, combined with the apprehension of its empty nature. Both deity yoga and understanding of emptiness are complete and present within a single cognitive event of the mind.

…in Highest Yoga Tantra much emphasis  is placed on dissolving conceptual thought processes - the coarse levels of mind - so bringing the mind down to such a depth that the fundamental innate mind of clear light becomes manifest and active, and then can focus on emptiness and perceive it. Once that is realized, then the subjective experience of emptiness becomes very powerful…Now, as I mentioned earlier, the significance of emphasizing the practice of clear light in Highest Yoga Tantra is to enable the practitioner to employ the fundamental innate mind of clear light for understanding and realizing emptiness, so that it can provide you with a unique wisdom - 'the wisdom which realizes emptiness.' (Dzogchen, 2000)

Compilation and commentary by Rod Hemsell, 2012



Audio file(s)

Audio FileVoiceDurationDownload link
  Introduction: Sutra, Mantra, TantraRod Hemsell85 minsPlease Login Or Register
  Book 1, Canto 3aRod Hemsell90 minsPlease Login Or Register
  Book 1, Canto 3bRod Hemsell64 minsPlease Login Or Register
  Book 1, Canto 5aRod Hemsell76 minsPlease Login Or Register
  Book 1, Canto 5bRod Hemsell30 minsPlease Login Or Register