Sri Aurobindo and the Mother: Yoga of Integral Transformation
Sri Aurobindo’s integral Yoga accepts almost all the principles of the synthesis arrived by Gita and Tantra and keep them as its foundation and starting point. Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo accepts and adopts fully the triune path of the Gita with an emphasis on Karma Yoga or Yoga of action; it accepts the total life-affirming emphasis of the Tantra and the tantric view of life as the progressive manifestation of the Divine power; it accepts and incorporates in its discipline all the methods of practice evolved by ancient systems of Yoga. But the unique feature of Sri Aurobindo’s integral Yoga is the concept of the descent of the Divine Consciousness and the concept of integral transformation. The main emphasis of traditional Yoga is on the ascent of the ordinary human consciousness into the higher divine consciousness and union of the individual soul with the universal divine self. And the recurring theme of the spiritual ideal in ancient Yogas was liberation of the individual soul from the bondage of ego and desire. Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo accepts the indispensable necessity of this ascent, union and liberation for the ultimate spiritual fulfillment. But integral yoga places an equal emphasis on the descent of the light and power of the divine consciousness into the mind, life and body of the individual, thereby transforming the whole being of man and all his life in the image of divine perfection. The spiritual liberation of the individual soul is not sufficient for this higher transformation. Not only the soul, but the mind, life and body, the instruments of the soul, have to be liberated, universalized and perfected. This higher transformation makes the whole being of man or woman a perfect and flawless instrument of the divine power for the progressive manifestation of the divine will in the world. This channelization of the divine consciousness into human life through the instrumentation of the spiritually perfected individual is the higher aim of integral Yoga.
To realize this integral spiritual transformation, integral Yoga relies mainly on self-surrender, a progressive and integral surrender of the whole being of the individual self to the divine power of the universal and transcendent self. This progressive surrender brings an increasingly conscious guidance and transforming action of the divine power in the individual. As Sri Aurobindo explains,
“The principle in view is a self-surrender, a giving up of the human being into the being, consciousness, power, delight of the Divine — by which the Divine himself directly and without veil master and possessor of the instrument, shall by the light of his presence and guidance perfect the human being.”
But we must note here that self-surrender in Yoga is not religious resignation which says, “not mine but Thy Will be done” and slumps into inertia or “tamas” as it is called in Indian thought. The process of self-surrender is a psychological discipline by which every part of our inner and outer being, from the highest and the most conscious and enlightened parts to the lowest, obscure, half-conscious or unconscious and instinctive elements in us are made more and more conscious and persuaded to renounce their ego, self-will and desires and give themselves willingly and consciously to the divine power. As Sri Aurobindo explains,
“The surrender must be total and seize all the parts of the being. It is not enough that the psychic should respond and the higher mental accept or even the inner vital submit and the inner physical consciousness feels the influence. There must be no part of the being, even the most external, anything that hides behind doubts, confusions and subterfuges anything that revolts of refuses”.
This is the inner condition under which the divine power will descend and bring about the transformation. And Sri Aurobindo adds emphatically, “note that a tamasic surrender refusing to fulfill the condition and calling on God to do everything and save one all the trouble and struggle is a deception and does not lead to freedom and perfection”. But obviously such a total and perfect surrender may not be possible to achieve in the beginning of the Path; it is realized progressively in stages. But as the seeker progresses in his self-giving and surrender, he begins to feel more and more concretely, the living presence of the divine power guiding, helping and supporting him, doing the Yoga for him and in him and gradually effecting a transformation of his inner and outer being and also his external life.
This brings us to the other unique feature of integral Yoga. Unlike most of the traditional Yogic systems, integral Yoga doesn’t have a systematic, formal or standardized methods of practice but a free, flexible and natural process determined by the nature, temperament, capacities and the evolving psychological and spiritual needs of the individual seekers. As Sri Aurobindo points out, “In the first place, it does not act according to a fixed system and succession as in the specialized method of Yoga, but with a sort of free, scattered and yet gradually intensive and purposeful working determined by the temperament of the individual in whom it operates, the helpful material which his nature offers and the obstacle it presents to purification and perfection”. The second distinct element of integral Yoga is that Life itself, and all the activities and experiences of life, is used as a means for spiritual growth of the individual. As Sri Aurobindo explains and sums up the essence of the method and process of integral Yoga:
“—the divine Power in us uses all life as the means of this integral Yoga. Every experience and outer contact with the world environment, however trifling or however disastrous, is used for the work and every inner experience, even to the most repellent suffering or the most humiliating fall, becomes a step on the path of perfection. And we recognize in ourselves with open eyes the method of God in the world, His purpose of light in the obscure, of might in the weak and the fallen, of delight in what is grievous and miserable. We see the divine method to be the same in the lower and in the higher working; only in the one it is pursued tardily and obscurely through the subconscious in Nature, in the other it becomes swift and self-conscious and the instrument confesses the hand of the Master.”
But the highest aim of integral Yoga is the spiritual transformation of the human body. This is the great work which the Mother was doing up to Her last days. In the traditional spirituality of the past, spiritual illumination or transformation happens either in the consciousness of the mind or heart or in will but never extended to the physical consciousness of the body. But in the Yoga of physical transformation which the Mother was doing, body is awakened to the divine consciousness which is within each of its cells. According to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, this divinization of the body and the world of matter is the ultimate destiny of terrestrial evolution.