Some key principles in Sri Aurobindos Integral Yoga Psychology
Author: Larry Seidlitz
Last Updated: January 1, 2008In this presentation, I would like to focus on two different as
Some key principles in Sri Aurobindos Integral Yoga Psychology
I am honored and a little intimidated to speak to such a group about Integral Yoga. I am not very used to speaking to audiences or groups about the yoga, but for the past three years I have been facilitating online courses about it. This is done in an email-like format, and usually with only one or a few students at a time. There we discuss various aspects of Sri Aurobindos yoga and philosophy, but in small bites of one brief topic or point at a time, with time in between to reflect before responding to what the other is saying, and the ability to correct, add to, or delete what one is saying as one is saying it in written form. It is a more relaxed, informal, and step-by-step approach than a public presentation, though it also has its own limitations.
I would like to start by talking a little about how I originally came to the subject which I think has shaped my approach and understanding of it. Also, I would like to briefly consider an outline of the overall subject matter that might be used as part of a general plan for a future program of education on the subject. Afterwards I would like to talk about a few important elements from this outline as examples, and afterwards invite you to express your own views and comments and questions about the subject.
Personal history of how I came to the subject
So let me begin with a little bit of personal history and how I came to become interested in psychology and in Sri Aurobindos Yoga Psychology.
Before learning about Sri Aurobindo, when I was 18 or 19 years old, an agnostic still quite skeptical about the existence of God, I remember sitting and looking out over Lake Michigan, which because of its size is like looking out over the ocean. I was watching the seagulls swooping down out of the blue sky and sunshine into the water, either to pick off fish or to rest and float comfortably upon its surface. I remember it appearing so amazing to me, so beautiful, and such a mystery. It was a kind of immediate perception without much thought behind it, just an awe of its beauty and its mystery, perhaps there was a sense of the mystery and tremendous power of its origin. If I had formulated it in words I might have said, How is it that this universe, this amazingly beautiful, complex, and harmonious physical nature, exists? How has it come to be? Against the background of nonexistence, or of dark empty space, this spectacle stood out as such as an amazement, such a mystery. I should add that I myself did not feel at all integrated into this harmony and beauty of nature. In fact, I felt quite cut off and out of synch with it, alone and pondering it as an outsider. It was perhaps a strong experience of the trinity of man, nature, and God, that Ananda spoke about last time, but here God was experienced only as an overshadowing Mystery. As a typically confused teenager, I was struggling to achieve some harmony and contentment both within myself and with others and the world around me, and trying to understand the meaning of it all.
It was in this psychological context that I began seeking for satisfying answers to the mysteries of existence. The version of Christianity that I had received from my Catholic upbringing offered nothing credible to me, and I had rejected it already years before. However, as a senior in high school, I had read Hermann Hesses book Siddhartha about the life of the Buddha, and this had a profound impact on me. It provided a sense of meaning, especially its vision of the oneness underlying all things and uniting the individual with nature. At the end of this book, if I remember correctly, the Buddha was leading a simple life in complete harmony with the nature around him, as if spontaneously, like the trees and the birds. Around the same time as this experience sitting at the lake shore, during my first two years of college, I had begun reading a number of books on Zen Buddhism, especially by D.T. Suzuki, which provided a direction and aim to my life. Another aspect of the Buddhist tradition which impressed me at this time was the emphasis on one-pointedness of practice, the need for a total concentration of the consciousness on the moment, on the Reality.
A somewhat different influence came also about this same time, when I took a psychology course which also had a profound impact upon me. I still have the textbook for this course, and I remember that at the time I went through it carefully and outlined the entire book, all the main points in all the chapters, so valuable did I find them. The book was titled Healthy Personality and was written by Sidney Jourard, who was a psychologist in the humanistic tradition. In it, he described what he viewed to be healthy approaches to the major facets of life, such as the self and self-concept, ones basic needs and their satisfaction, the body, emotions, family, friends, sex, marriage, work, recreation, enjoyment of nature, religion, and the like. In addition, he stressed several important ideas, such as ones freedom to choose, to make ones own choices in life; authenticity, by which he meant in part to take responsibility for ones choices, to live according to ones own choices and not those of others; and self-disclosure, by which he meant to have the courage to be oneself and reveal ones true self to others, and not to hide behind artificial disguises. It provided a direction, an ideal to aim towards in all these different areas of life which had seemed up until then so confusing to me. Indeed, to see these areas of life set side by side clearly distinguished was in itself a big help, as I had never before looked at life in an organized, rational way; it all just happened pell-mell and confusedly ran together. It provided useful keys for integrating ones personality.
It was a little later when I was entering my third year of college that I came across the teachings of Sri Aurobindo. I had moved from my hometown where I had attended the two-year junior college and transferred to the large state University of Wisconsin at Madison. I went into the university housing, a dormitory, and was paired with an Indian roommate, who happened to have photos of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on his bookshelf. I think even before classes had officially started we probably moved in several days before I started reading Sri Aurobindos books. I found all I had been seeking for, because while it encompassed the oneness of existence like Buddhism, it also gave a sense of purpose, and more importantly, an ideal and aim to life in all its many facets. More than this, I really felt as if God was speaking to me through his writings, and explaining the answers to all my deepest questions. Within a matter of several weeks I stopped going to my classes in order to spend more time reading Sri Aurobindo, which seemed to me then the only thing worth pursuing.
I will conclude this little biographical introduction quickly. I read Sri Aurobindos and Mothers books for a number of years and got involved with the Sri Aurobindo community in the U.S. After some time I decided I would go back to school and pursue a career in psychology. I finished my bachelors degree studies taking mostly psychology courses, and then a doctoral programme in personality psychology, focusing especially on psychological well-being. After finishing graduate school, I worked for seven years doing psychology research. Although I found the studies interesting and that they provided a detailed and sophisticated understanding of behavior and our psychological existence, I also felt that they only examined the surface of things. I continued to find the deeper insights into life as well as inner fulfillment in my study and practice of Sri Aurobindos Yoga.
Then in 2000 I left my career and joined a small Sri Aurobindo Ashram in the U.S. After being there for several years, I felt a pull to come to Pondicherry and saw an opportunity to work with Ananda Reddy developing an online university focused on Sri Aurobindos thought and vision.
Key areas of study in traditional psychology and their limitations
I will just briefly list the major areas of study in mainstream psychology to show what it offers, but also how it is limited and contrasts with Sri Aurobindos Integral Yoga Psychology. Psychology can broadly be defined as the science of human behavior. It examines the determinants of behavior from many different levels and angles. It examines:
1) biological determinants in the nervous and endocrine systems,
2) both macro and micro social determinants such as from the culture in which one lives, the media, the family, other individuals, even the physical environment;
3) the cognitive and emotional processes that shape our behavior and how these are related to both our biology and our social environment;
4) personality structure, the individuals relatively stable personality traits, and how personality and human behavior in general develop and change across the life-span; and
5) the nature and causes of disturbances and dysfunctions in human behavior and how these can be alleviated and mended.
As we can see from this brief list it covers a vast field, and as such has become highly specialized and fragmented. Each of the areas I have mentioned are in constant development, represented by hundreds of different theories based on many thousands of studies. It is a vast body of knowledge and speculation, which can provide useful perspectives and a deeper understanding, but generally lacks a fundamental unifying principle or direction for our lives. Nor does it supply a significance or meaning to life.
Overview of Sri Aurobindos Integral Yoga Psychology
This is where Sri Aurobindos Yoga psychology complements traditional psychology. It does provide a unified vision that includes at once existence as a whole and humanitys place in it, as well as a guide to life based on this vision.
One can approach the topic of Integral Yoga Psychology from a number of different levels and from many different angles. I like to distinguish four different levels ranging from the most abstract to the most specific and concrete.
At the most abstract level we can examine its theoretical foundations, including such concepts as the Brahman, Sachchidananda, the Supermind, the Self, the Psychic Being, spiritual evolution, and the triple transformationpsychic, spiritual, and supramental.
At the next level down we can consider basic principles in the practice of Integral Yoga, such as personal effort and grace; aspiration, rejection, surrender; equality and perseverance; karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, and what Sri Aurobindo calls the yoga of self-perfection.
However, there are more specific elements of the practice that may be approached in at least two different ways. The first is as yogic approaches to various aspects of life, such as work, socialization, food, sleep, sex, illness, and facing adversities in life.
Another way to consider these more specific elements is as particular practices or practical aids, such as meditation and concentration; mantra and japa; prayer and devotion; the practice of living within; utilization of satsang and growth-fostering interpersonal relations; reading and writing; and the utilization of music, poetry, and art.
All of these are important topics for examination in Integral Yoga Psychology, and I mention them so as to put into perspective those topics which I will focus on today.
The foundational principle: the Brahman
The fundamental underlying foundation of Integral Yoga Psychology is the Brahman, or in Western terminology, the Absolute. More commonly in this Yoga it is referred to as the Divine. Brahman is the aim of all our endeavors, the endeavor of life and the endeavor of Yoga. It is the Reality, the Truth which we seek to find, know, and become. It is the mystery of our existence which we wish to unravel.
In order to get some kind of mental picture of the Brahman, it is necessary to widen our perspective. Normally we are so centered on our little existence, our little troubles, our little projects. But in Truth our little existence is not cut off from the rest of existence. This sense of our separateness is a fiction of our mind, not the Reality. This is a basic truth that I mentally perceived in my early reading about Buddhism. Of course we know this theoretically if we think about it, but usually we dont think about it. We know theoretically that our bodies are continually taking in food from outside, material food, vital food, mental food, and perhaps spiritual food; and that we are continually in turn putting out from ourselves into our environment material, vital, mental, and perhaps spiritual food for others. We know theoretically that we exist in a soup of these different types of vibrations, and while we may not often think about, sometimes it becomes so thick we cannot help but notice.
Perhaps, after we have read Sri Aurobindo for a time, especially after reading Savitri, we also can get a sense that the world in which we live, this physical earth, is only one world in a whole
hierarchy of worlds that include subtle physical worlds, vital worlds, mental worlds, higher spiritual mind worlds, psychic worlds, all of which, invisible to us, influence things here on our little earth. Now this is a little disconcerting. It is bad enough we exist in soup of the vibrations of all our fellow human beings, but now we are being constantly influenced, manipulated, toyed with, by beings and forces from alien worlds which we cannot see. Everything is inextricably tied together. We really cant find a place to sit in private.
So it is not too difficult to get a sense that we are a part of nature, a part of the universe, and that there is a oneness underlying all things and all beings. But the Brahman is not limited to this universal oneness of all things. Importantly, it is the oneness underlying the universe, but it is also each individual being and thing in the universe. It is oneness, but it is also multiplicity. While the multiplicity may have oneness as its basis, yet this is not a featureless oneness in which there is no differentiation or difference between things and beings.
At the same time, the Brahman is not limited to this universal existence, to what exists, it includes the nonexistent, if there were such a thing. Or to put it another way, the Brahman has put out from itself this manifestation of the universe, but it is not limited by its manifestation; it is more that what is manifested.
All of these descriptions refer only to the impersonal side of Brahman, but there is also the personal side. The Divine is not merely All-Existence, or the Oneness of all existence, or Something transcending all existence. Brahman is not merely Everything or Something, it is also Someone. Just as we see our world peopled by conscious living beings, so Brahman is a conscious living Being. It is an Absolute which includes but also transcends Personality and Impersonality. Indeed, how could it be otherwise? The mystery of existence becomes much more intelligible if we acknowledge that Brahman includes and thus is capable of everything manifested in its many facets, including personality, including relations with others, or rather, with its various facets. It seems to me that an Absolute such as described in terms such as these is the only really satisfying conception of the wonder of existence in which we find ourselves.
Finally, we have to say that it is an inexpressible mystery unseizable by our minds or conceptions. We can talk about Brahman, but we cannot define it or capture it our conceptions. It itself is the origin and source of all our conceptions. It is the fundamental Reality, it is that which alone Is, and all our conceptions are merely some partial, pale reflection of It in our minds. In the luminous words of the Kena Upanishad as translated by Sri Aurobindo:
That which is unexpressed by the word, that by which the word is expressed, know That to be the Brahman and not this which men follow after here.
That which thinks not by the mind, that by which the mind is thought, know that to be Brahman and not this which men follow after here.
We cannot know the Brahman by our minds, by our conceptions, however wide and embracing they may be. Neither can we know by our minds, by our conceptions, the answers to our most perplexing and fundamental questions. Our minds may conceive pale reflections of the answers, but not fundamentally satisfying ones.
But if the Divine is unseizable by minds or our conceptions, how can we find the answers to the mysteries of our existence? Although unknowable by our minds, the Brahman is not absolutely unknowable to us. As Sri Aurobindo says, Brahman is known to itself, but this is not a mental knowledge but a knowledge by identity. As Brahman is our own fundamental Reality as well as the fundamental Reality of all existence, we can discover our own Reality and the worlds Reality by becoming the Brahman, by realizing and consciously becoming our own True Reality. This is the aim of our endeavor, of our seeking.
We need a radical shift. We are not seeking some mental ideal, however, high and wide it may be. We are not seeking simply some ideal society, or some ideal educational system. We are seeking the Supreme himself, who is our own highest Self. We are locked in a mental, vital, and physical framework, and we need to find the key that opens us to our own greater existence in the Supreme. That is the most important point, and relates to the need for one-pointedness in our efforts. I feel that it is very easy to become distracted by minor pursuits and activities, and that it is necessary to keep our eye on the goal. However, it is true that we do not simply want to find a way out of the world, but to open up the prison itself to the Divine Force and turn it into a living temple vibrant with the Presence.
How do find the Brahman? How can we escape out of our limited frontal personality into the wideness and freedom of our larger existence? One way is to be found in the Integral Yoga, though there are many other paths. But the Integral Yoga is unique in that aims not only at a release out of our prison, but the transformation of it.
Key principles of practice: the Grace
So what is the way of the Integral Yoga? Now here we can easily get lost in a fog, because the Integral Yoga is vast and many-sided and the cosmic forces of the ignorance still have great power as well as the will to retain their hold over us individually and collectively. Therefore it is useful to focus on a few of the key principles which can guide us through the confusing and difficult path. Most of these key principles are simple to understand, but very difficult to carry out in practice. Nevertheless, we must keep focused on them and not be lured off track by more intellectually stimulating but ultimately less important and effective bypaths.
I have mentioned in passing a number of the key principles of the practice of the Integral Yoga, and here I would like to focus on the dual principle of Grace and personal effort. I will say a little about these as an introduction, but then I would like to open up the discussion to hear your thoughts and experiences about Grace and personal effort in the yoga, and how we can utilize our understanding of these principles to the best advantage for making personal and collective progress in the yoga. Let me start by saying a little something about Grace.
As we have conceived the Brahman, it should be obvious that our human consciousness cannot attain an integral realization of the Brahman by its own power and effort. At the same time, it makes perfect sense that the Brahman, being our fundamental Reality and True Self, would be capable of taking us up into Itself and uniting us with It while at the same time bringing into fulfillment our individual and outer life and personality. This conscious and helping power of the Supreme is called in Integral Yoga the Mother.
Probably all of us have experienced demonstrations of the power of the Grace in our lives. Usually, the Grace works in such a way that it does not make a big display of itself, and we perhaps could not convince an unbeliever that its effect was due to Grace, yet we may intuitively feel that it was. For example, we may meet a person just at the right time, or some information may unexpectedly come to us just when we need it. Or we may see a seemingly intractable problem suddenly simply dissolve. Many times, however, the Grace may make itself sufficiently obvious to the practitioner that it confirms and supports his or her faith in its action. There are many such instances that have been recorded in the literature of the Integral Yoga as well as in other paths and traditions.
In this context it might be interesting for you to read the accounts of John Kelly in the books by Aurovilles Jocelyn or Maggi Lidchi. In short, Kelly was an ordinary American soldier in World War II who while on the battlefield began to repeatedly see and hear Sri Aurobindo guiding him out of deadly situations. He wasnt sure if he was going mad or what was happening. After the war he became interested in the writings of Sri Aurobindo, not knowing that it was Sri Aurobindo who had come to him in his visions. He only came to know that it was Sri Aurobindo whom he saw somewhat later when he saw the Cartier Bresson photos of 1950 which were the first and only photos of the older, white-haired Sri Aurobindo which he had seen on the battlefield. According to the account I read, he had been the one who picked up the photos from the studio on behalf of the Sri Aurobindo Center in New York where he was a volunteer, and was present when the envelope was first opened at the center.
We can also find dozens of striking miracles in the books of Ashramite Shyam Kumari who has documented the stories of hundreds of sadhaks. Here, for example, you will find many seemingly miraculous cures and escapes from disasters and desperate situations. However, as the Mother once said, the greatest miracles are those which go unnoticed because the disaster doesnt materialize in the first place.
Grace is perhaps one of those topics which may seem intellectual boring for the simple reason that it does not easily lend itself to intellectual analysis. By its very nature it seems to be irrational, illogical because it doesnt follow the normal laws. In fact, however, it is not illogical, and is consistent with a view of the universe being a manifestation of the Brahman in the Brahman. The Brahman by its very nature cannot be limited by laws, as it is the originator of all laws, unless it chooses to.
I think it that it is fundamental that we develop and instill in ourselves a concrete and living sense that are in contact with the Brahman, or the Divine as I will now call it, and that we are collaborating with the Divine in an effort towards our own transformation. Since the Divine is our own true Self, the fundamental reality of our being, it must be that he is indeed Present. We have only to become conscious of his Presence. This requires concentration, because there are many things that constantly vie for our attention. We must develop this concentration on the Divine through practice. Once we begin to fix our concentration on the Divine, and maintain it more and more frequently and constantly, then the Divines Presence and Action in our lives should become progressively apparent.
Here we can perhaps make a clarification and a distinction. The Grace can of course work on and in us without our awareness; it does not require that we be conscious of the Divine Presence or its action in us. Indeed throughout the course of the evolution the Divine is there to see that it does not become stalled or deflected from its eventual destination.
Since the Divine is Absolute, he must be capable of lifting us out of our ignorance and imprisoned existence. Indeed it is only through the intervention of the Divine that the Divine consciousness can be delivered from the inconscient in the course of evolution or from our limited human lives and minds in the course of sadhana.
But still there is a difference between the action of the Grace working in an unconscious and unreceptive instrument and one that is conscious, receptive, and collaborating.
We can get a further look into the attitude we need to develop from a few statements in the Mothers Prayers and Meditations:
Thou canst make of me all that I need to be, and in the measure in which my attitude allows Thee to act on me and in me, Thy omnipotence has no limits. (Dec. 3, 1912).
All who seek Thee with ardour should understand that Thou art there whenever there is need of Thee; and if they could have the supreme faith to give up seeking Thee, but rather to await Thee, at each moment putting themselves integrally at Thy service, Thou wouldst be there whenever there was need of Thee; and is there not always need of Thee with us, whatever may be the different, and often unexpected, forms of Thy manifestation? (Feb. 10, 1913)
In volume 14 of her Collected Works, there is a wonderful section of short statements made by the Mother about the role of Grace in the the sadhana. I would like to read a few of them.
The Grace is infinite for him who sincerely trusts the Grace. (March 15, 1935)
With trust in the Divines Grace all obstacles can be surmounted. (April 20, 1954)
We must learn to rely only on the Divine Grace and to call for its help in all circumstances; then it will work out constant miracles.
The Divine Grace is always with you and by your trust you allow its action to be effective.
It is in proportion to our trust in the Divine that the Divine Grace can act for us and help.
Nothing can be compared to the peace that comes from a total trust in the Grace.
Whatever happens we must remain quiet and trust the Divines Grace. (October 25, 1954)
In any case and whatever happens, always consider events as a gift from the Divine Grace which is leading you by swift paths towards the spiritual goal of your life (January 14, 1963)
So we see that it is the really the Divine who is doing the yoga, and our task is really to get out the way. That is the problem, isnt it? We always get in the way. We dont trust in the Divine, and we think we can do it much better. And so we spoil everything. We must learn to trust in the Grace, learn to move in harmony with its action, learn to accept its ways. Then we can live in Peace and total reliance on the Grace, and the yoga can progress very quickly.
On December 8, 1971, the Mother handed Satprem a note.
Our human consciousness has windows opening on the Infinite. But generally men keep the windows tightly closed. We must open them wide and let the Infinite penetrate us freely to transform us.
Two conditions are required to open the windows.
1. Ardent aspiration. 2. Progressive abolition of the ego.
The divine help is assured to those who set to work sincerely.
Key Principles of Practice: Aspiration
This brings us to the issue of personal effort. Mothers note suggests that the human consciousness is generally shut to the action of the Divine Grace, and that it is necessary to open it up so that the Grace can act. There are two principal requirements which require our personal effort: a strong aspiration and a progressive rooting out of the ego, though even here we see that we will be supported in our efforts by the Grace.
Sri Aurobindo, in the first chapter of the book The Mother, indicated that success in the Yoga requires the combined working of two powers, Grace, and a fixed and unfailing aspiration that calls from below. Later in the second chapter he mentions other two other aspects of personal effort, rejection and surrender, but aspiration is the first and foremost element.
So what is aspiration?
Aspiration in its essence is the pure and sacred flame of Agni rising from the depths of the psychic being. But this fire in its ascent envelops the heart and mind and even the body consciousness, such that all the parts of the being can join in the aspiration in their own characteristic fashion. Thus, the power and clarity of the mental will, the longing of the heart, the strength and generosity of the vital, and the opening of the physical consciousness can all join in the flaming aspiration of the psychic being.
Even after trying to practice the yoga for so many years, it seems that this point tends to get lost or obscured: the essential personal effort that we are called to make in this yoga is to light this flame of aspiration and keep it burning and to continue to increase it. It is already burning there deep within us, but until we are centered in the psychic being, it gets covered over by activities of the mind and vital together with the obscurity of the physical consciousness. But we can also move towards that psychic flame through those parts of the mind, vital, and physical consciousness that have been touched by it. So when we have nothing else, we may need to fall back on the use of our mental will, or that part of our vital being that knows and wants to contribute to the effort, or that more luminous part of our physical consciousness that feels and senses the presence of the Divine. But if we can go deep within, concentrating on the Divine, calling on the Divine, and rise like a flame in self-giving towards the Divine, then the aspiration becomes intense and begins to take its true form, and the other aspiring parts of the being find their strength and fulfillment.
I think it would be a good exercise for us right now if we could all take about three minutes to concentrate within and visualize within our heart center a fire, a flame burning upwards to the Divine. Close your eyes and take a moment to quiet your thoughts. Imagine a small fire burning at the level of your heart, rising up within you towards the Divine. Put into the flame your will, your hearts yearning for the Divine. Feel it grow, higher and higher. Imagine it getting stronger, more intense, brighter and higher. Put into it all your will, your love, your self-giving, your vital strength and enthusiasm, all rising upwards towards the Divine. If it helps you, you can repeat the Mothers name, or OM, or another mantra. Let it grow in strength and intensity. [Wait a minute or two] OK, you can relax now, and gradually come back to your outer consciousness, and open your eyes.
I feel it is especially this type of inner aspiration that we are called upon to cultivate in our personal effort at sadhana. This is a dynamic meditation which helps us to become centered in the psychic being and at the same time strengthen and intensify our aspiration. It is this inner aspiration, this rising of the consciousness within us to meet the Divine above that calls down the Divine Grace and makes us receptive to it. After practicing this for some time, it is not uncommon to feel some response of the Divine, perhaps a widening into peace, perhaps flashes of light, perhaps a tingling or feeling of force circulating around the head or body, perhaps a sudden delight or ecstasy.
It is not necessary to practice this type of aspiration only during time set aside for meditation, though there it can perhaps build to a greater intensity and fullness. Rather, we should begin to cultivate this sense of inner concentration and inner self-giving to the Divine during our daily activities as well. It will be helpful if we can start out the day with a brief concentration of this sort, and again before we go to sleep. We can also take a moment before our meals or when we have some spare time to relax. Instead of losing ourselves in some distracting activity during those times, if we can gather ourselves and concentrate in our aspiration to give ourselves to the Divine, it will be very helpful. As this practice gradually becomes more habitual and normal, then it will be easier to shift our consciousness upwards in this type of concentrated aspiration when we are also engaged in other activities. For it really doesnt take much effort or attention, it is simply subtly shifting our consciousness which is ordinarily directed outwards, shifting it instead upwards towards the Divine, while also bringing into it an ardour, a deep self-giving and surrender of ourselves.
While I think the practice of concentrated aspiration to the Divine, its intensification and making it more and more pervasive in our lives should be made a central or at least important component of our personal effort, there are other things that we must also attend to. As Sri Aurobindo says in chapter two of The Mother, the personal effort required is a triple labor of aspiration, rejection, and surrender. Rejection is the more painful side of the sadhana, because the vital strongly resists giving up its desires or its objects of desire.
Key Principles of Practice: Rejection
But here too I think it is useful to look closely at what Sri Aurobindo says here about what we are to reject. He says:
Rejection of the movements of the lower naturerejection of the minds ideas, opinions, preferences, habits, constructions, so that the true knowledge may find free room in a silent mind,
Do you see how radical this is? This is not simply giving up tea or coffee, or giving up TV, radical as those may seem. He is saying we need to reject thought activity altogether.
And he continues: rejection of the vital natures desires, demands, cravings, sensations, passions, selfishness, pride, arrogance, lust, greed, jealousy, envy, hostility to the Truth, so that the true power and joy may pour from above into a calm, large, strong, and consecrated vital being,
Here we see that it is not simply the objects of desire we must reject, but we must reject the lower movements of the vital itself. Not only the harmful objects of desire, but the vital vibration of desire itself.
And finally: rejection of the physical natures stupidity, doubt, disbelief, obscurity, obstinancy, pettiness, laziness, unwillingness to change, Tamas, so that the true stability of Light , Power, Ananda may establish itself in a body growing always more divine.
These problems of the physical naturedullness and unconsciousness, lack of complete faith in the Divine, unwillingness to change, attachment to our small selvesseem to be part of our constitution, inherent to our very consciousness. How can we reject these?
It seems to me the secret of rejection is that it must be a two-step process, but that we often skip over the first step. The first step is backwardswe must first draw our consciousness within and away from the surface of our being, we must stand back and detach our consciousness from its entanglement with these movements of our lower nature. We must get into the poise of the Witness consciousness, the Purusha. Otherwise if we remain in the surface consciousness, we only struggle and thrash about in the bonds of our nature, but cannot get free. We need to take a firm step within into the calm and equal vision of the Purusha, watching but unaffected by the activities of the outer nature. It is a matter of shifting the consciousness, detaching itself from its identification with the movements of the nature, and observing the nature as if it were outside. When we are able to stand back in a part of our consciousness that feels detached from these movements, then from that poise we can quietly put a pressure of the will on them so that they will cease.
Naturally this inward movement will be supported by both our practice of inner concentration and aspiration which I described, and also by the descent of the Grace which our concentration and aspiration will call down and prepare us to receive. The higher consciousness which descends has itself and brings this Purusha consciousness: calm, silence, wide peace, detached perception. In that peace and wideness the movements of the lower consciousness naturally fall away and dissolve. Of course, this generally happens only during the period of concentration and tends to become obscured during regular daily activity. But its practice and repetition makes it a more habitual and normal poise of the consciousness which begins gradually to pervade the consciousness even during activity.
Key Principles of Practice: Surrender
Finally, I will say a few words about surrender, the last of the three labors of personal effort mentioned by Sri Aurobindo in The Mother. He does not say much directly about surrender there in the text itself, except that it should be a surrender of oneself and all one has and every plane of the consciousness and every movement to the Divine and the Shakti. He also warns that the true surrender should not be confused with a tamasic surrender which refuses to fulfill the conditions of the Divine and calls on God to do everything. But if we just consider the meaning and connotations of the word, we understand that surrender implies a complete self-giving into the hands of the Divine, which is closely related to the principles of the Grace and trust in Grace on the one hand, and aspiration on the other. To make that surrender and self-giving true and complete, dynamic rather than tamasic, it also requires releasing ones grip on the lower and outer consciousness, ones attachments to ones limited outer self and personality, and thus rejection of the movements of the lower nature. We could perhaps say it is a surrender of the ego into the hands of the Divine.