The Psychology of Yoga
In the deep there is a greater deep, in the heights a greater height.
Sooner shall man arrive at the borders of infinity than at the fulness
of his own being. For that being is infinity, is God - I aspire to infinite
force, infinite knowledge, infinite bliss. Can I attain it? Yes, but the
nature of infinity is that it has no end. Say not therefore that I attain
it. I become it. Only so can man attain God by becoming God.
But before attaining he can enter into relations with him. To enter into
relations with God is Yoga, the highest rapture and the noblest utility.
There are relations within the compass of the humanity we have developed.
These are called prayer, worship, adoration, sacrifice, thought, faith,
There are other relations beyond our developed capacity, but within the
compass of the humanity we have yet to develop. Those are the relations
that are attained by the various practices we usually call Yoga.
We may not know him as God, we may know him as Nature, our Higher Self,
Infinity, some ineffable goal. It was so that Buddha approached Him; so
approaches him the rigid Adwaitin. He is accessible even to the Atheist.
To the materialist He disguises Himself in matter. For the Nihilist he
waits ambushed in the bosom of Annihilation.
ye yatha Mam prapadyante Tamstathaiva bhajamyaham
[transliteration of a phrase that Sri Aurobindo wrote in Sanskrit. It
is a citation from the Bhagavad Gita (4.11) and means "as men approach
me, so I accept them to my love"]
The pessimists have made moksha synonymous with annihilation or
dissolution, but its true meaning is freedom. He who is free from bondage,
is free, is mukta. But the last bondage is the passion for liberation
itself which must be renounced before the soul can be perfectly free,
and the last knowledge is the realisation that there is none bound, none
desirous of freedom, but the soul is for ever and perfectly free, that
bondage is an illusion and the liberation from bondage is an illusion.
Not only are we bound but in play, the mimic knots are of such a nature
that we ourselves can at our pleasure undo them.
Nevertheless the bonds are many and intricate. The most difficult of all
their knots is egoism, the delusion that we have an individual existence
sufficient in itself, separate from the universal and only being, ekamevadwitiyam,
who is one not only beyond Time, Space and Causality. Not only are we
all Brahman in our nature and being, waves of one sea, but we are each
of us Brahman in His entirety, for that which differentiates and limits
us, nama and rupa, exists only in play and for the sake
of the world-drama.
Whence then comes this delusion of egoism, if there is no separate existence
and only Brahman is? We answer that there is separate existence but only
in manifestation not in reality. It is as if one actor could play different
parts not in succession but at one and the same moment; each part is He
Himself, one and indivisible, but each part is different from the other.
Brahman extends Himself in Time, Space and Causality which do not condition
Him but exist in Him and can at any time be changed or abolished, and
in Time, Space and Causality He attaches Himself to many namarupas
which are merely existences in His universal being.
They are real in manifestation, unreal outside manifestation.
The Shastras use the same word for man and the one divine and universal
Being: Purusha, as if to lay stress upon the oneness of humanity
Nara and Narayana are the eternal couple, who, though they are two, are
one, eternally different, eternally the same. Narayana, say the scholiasts,
is he who dwells in the waters, but I rather think it means he who is
the essence and sum of all humanity. Wherever there is a man, there there
is Narayana; for the two cannot be separated. I think sometimes that when
Christ spoke of himself as the Son of Man, he really meant the son of
the Purusha, and almost find myself imagining that anthropos
is only the clumsy Greek equivalent, the literal and ignorant translation
of some Syrian word which corresponded to our Purusha.
Be that as it may, there can be no doubt that man is full of divine possibilities
- he is not merely a term in physical evolution, but himself the field
of a spiritual evolution which with him began and in him will end. It
was only when man was made, that the gods were satisfied - they who had
rejected the animal forms, - and cried sukritameva [altered citation
from the Aitareya Upanishad (I.2.3), means "well-built, indeed"]:
"Man indeed is well and wonderfully made; the higher evolution can
now begin." He is like God, the sum of all other types and creatures
from the animal to the god, infinitely variable where they are fixed,
dynamic where they, even the highest, are static, and, therefore, although
in the present and in his attainment a little lower than the angels, yet
in the eventuality and in his culmination considerably higher than the
gods. The other or fixed types, animals, gods, giants, Titans, demigods,
can rise to a higher development than their own, but they must use the
human body and the terrestrial birth to effect the transition.
The knowledge which the man of pure intellect prefers to a more active
and mundane curiosity, has in its surroundings a certain loftiness and
serene detachment that cannot fail in their charm. To withdraw from contact
with emotion and life and weave a luminous colourless shadowless web of
thought, alone and far away in the infinite azure empyrean of pure ideas,
can be an enthralling pastime fit for Titans or even for Gods. The ideas
so found have always their value and it is no objection to their truth
that, when tested by the rude ordeal of life and experience, they go to
pieces. All that inopportune disaster proves is that they are no fit guides
to ordinary human conduct; for material life which is the field of conduct
is only intellectual on its mountaintops; in the plains and valleys ideas
must undergo limitation by unideal conditions and withstand the shock
of crude sub-ideal forces.
Nevertheless conduct is a great part of our existence and the mere metaphysical,
logical or scientific knowledge that either does not help me to act or
even limits my self-manifestation through action, cannot be my only concern.
For God has not set me here merely to think, to philosophise, to weave
metaphysical systems, to play with words and syllogisms, but to act, love
and know. I must act divinely so that I may become divine in being and
deed; I must learn to love God not only in Himself but in all beings,
appearances, objects, enjoyments, events, whether men call them good or
bad, real or mythical, fortunate or calamitous; and I must know Him with
the same divine impartiality and completeness in order that I may come
to be like Him, perfect, pure and unlimited - that which all sons of Man
must one day be. This, I cannot help thinking, is the meaning and purpose
of the Lila. It is not true that because I think, I am; but rather
because I think, feel and act, and even while I am doing any or all of
these things, can transcend the thought, feeling and action, therefore
I am. Because I manifest, I am, and because I transcend manifestation,
I am. The formula is not so clear and catching as the Cartesian, but there
is a fuller truth in its greater comprehensiveness.
The man of unalloyed intellect has a very high and difficult function;
it is his function to teach men to think clearly and purely. In order
to effect that for mankind, to carry reason as far as that somewhat stumbling
and hesitating Pegasus will go, he sacrifices all the bypaths of mental
enjoyment, the shady alleys and the moonlit gardens of the soul, in order
that he may walk in rare air and a cold sunlight, living highly and austerely
on the peaks of his mind and seeking God severely through knowledge. He
treads down his emotions, because emotion distorts reason and replaces
it by passions, desires, preferences, prejudices, prejudgments. He avoids
life, because life awakes all his sensational being and puts his reason
at the mercy of egoism, of sensational reactions of anger, fear, hope,
hunger, ambition, instead of allowing it to act justly and do disinterested
work. It becomes merely the paid pleader of a party, a cause, a creed,
a dogma, an intellectual faction. Passion and eagerness, even intellectual
eagerness, so disfigure the greatest minds that even Shankara becomes
a sophist and a word-twister, and even Buddha argues in a circle. The
philosopher wishes above all to preserve his intellectual righteousness;
he is or should be as careful of his mental rectitude as the saint of
his moral stainlessness. Therefore he avoids, as far as the world will
let him, the conditions which disturb. But in this way he cuts himself
off from experience and only the gods can know without experience.
Sieyès said that politics was a subject of which he had made a
science. He had, but the pity was that though he knew the science of politics
perfectly, he did not know politics itself in the least and when he did
enter political life, he had formed too rigidly the logical habit to replace
it in any degree by the practical. If he had reversed the order or at
least coordinated experiment with his theories before they were formed,
he might have succeeded better. His ready-made Constitutions are monuments
of logical perfection and practical ineffectiveness. They have the weakness
of all logic; - granting your premises, your conclusion is all-triumphant;
but then who is going to grant you your premises? There is nothing Fact
and Destiny delight in so much as upsetting the logician's major and minor.
The logician thinks he has ensured himself against error when he has made
a classification of particular fallacies; but he forgets the supreme and
general fallacy, the fallacy of thinking that logic can, as a rule, prove
anything but particular and partial propositions dealing with a fragmentary
and one-sided truth.
Logic? But Truth is not logical; it contains logic, but is not contained
by it. A particular syllogism may be true, so far as it goes, covering
a sharply limited set of facts, but even a set of syllogisms cannot exhaust
truth on a general subject, for the simple reason that they necessarily
ignore a number of equally valid premises, facts or possibilities which
support a modified or contrary view. If one could arrive first at a
conclusion, then at its exact opposite and, finally, harmonise the contradiction,
one might arrive at some approach to the truth. But this is a process
logic abhors. Its fundamental conception is that two contradictory statements
cannot be true at the same time and place and in the same circumstances.
Now, Fact and Nature and God laugh aloud when they hear the logician state
his fundamental conception. For the universe is based on the simultaneous
existence of contradictions covering the same time, place and circumstances.
The elementary conception that God is at once One and Many, Finite and
Infinite, Formed and Formless and that each attribute is the condition
of the existence of its opposite, is a thing metaphysical logic has been
boggling over ever since the reign of reason began.
The metaphysician thinks that he has got over the difficulty about the
validity of premises by getting to the tattwas, the ideal truths
of universal existence.
Afterwards, he thinks, there can be no fear of confusion or error and
by understanding and fixing them we shall be able to proceed from a sound
basis to the rest of our task. He fashions his critique of reason, his
system of pramanas, and launches himself into the wide inane. Alas,
the tattwas are the very foundation, support and initial reason
of this worldwide contradiction and logically impossible conciliation
of opposites in which God has shadowed out some few rays of His luminous
and infinite reality, - impossible to bind with the narrow links of a
logical chain precisely because it is infinite. As for the pramanas,
their manipulation is the instrument of all difference of opinion and
the accompaniment to an unending jangle of debate.
Both the logician and the philosopher are apt to forget that they are
dealing with words and words divorced from experience can be the most
terrible misleaders in the world. Precisely because they are capable of
giving us so much light, they are also capable of lighting us into impenetrable
darkness. Tato bhuya iva te tamo ya u vidyayam ratah: "Deeper
is the darkness into which they enter who are addicted to knowledge alone."
This sort of word worship and its resultant luminous darkness is very
common in India and nowhere more than in the intellectualities of religion,
so that when a man talks to me about the One and Maya and the Absolute,
I am tempted to ask him, "My friend, how much have you experienced
of these things in which you instruct me or how much are you telling me
out of a vacuum or merely from intellectual appreciation? If you have
merely ideas and no experience, you are no authority for me and your logic
is to me but the clashing of cymbals good to deafen an opponent into silence,
but of no use for knowledge. If you say you have experienced, then I have
to ask you, 'Are you sure you have measured all possible experience? '
If you have not, then how can you be sure that my contradictory experience
is not equally true? If you say you have, then I know you to be deluded
or a pretender, one who has experienced a fragment or nothing; for God
in His entire being is unknowable, avijnatam vijanatam." The
scientist thinks he has corrected the mistakes of the metaphysician because
he refuses to deal with anything but a narrow and limited circle of facts
and condemns everything else as hallucination, imposture and imagination.
His parti pris, his fierce and settled prejudgments, his determined
begging of the question are too obvious and well known to need particular
illustration. He forgets that all experiences are facts, that ideas are
facts, that subjective knowledge is the one fact of which he can be decently
sure and that he knows nothing even of the material world by his senses
but only by the use his subjective knowledge makes of the senses. Many
a materialist will tell you that only those facts can be accepted as a
basis to knowledge which the senses supply, - a position which no man
can substantiate and which his science daily denies in practice. These
reasoners consent to trust to their sovereign subjective instrument when
it settles for them the truths about this world visible to their lower
instruments, but the same sovereign instrument is condemned as wholly
fallacious and insane when it deals in precisely the same way with another
field of perceptions and experiences. When my subjective experience tells
him, "I am hungry", he consents; "Of course, you must be
since you say so." But let it tell him, "I am full of bliss
from an immaterial source"; or "By certain higher instruments
repeatedly tested I know that I have wandered in regions illuminated by
no material sun," and he answers, "You are only fit for the
gaol or the lunatic asylum." No one has seen the earth whirling round
the sun, indeed we see daily the opposite, yet he holds the first opinion
obstinately, but if you say "Although God is not seen of men, yet
He exists," he turns from you angrily and stalks into his laboratory.
The practical man avoids error by refusing to think at all. His method
at least cannot be right. It is not right even for the practical uses
he prefers exclusively to all others. You see him stumbling into some
pit because he refuses to walk with a light and then accusing adverse
circumstances or his evil fortune, or he shouts, elbows, jostles, tumbles
and stumbles himself into a final success and departs at last, satisfied;
leaving behind a name in history and a legacy of falsehood, evil and suffering
to unborn generations. The method of the practical man is the shortest
and most facile, but the least admirable of all.
Truth is an infinitely complex reality and he has the best chance of arriving
nearest to it who most recognises but is not daunted by its infinite complexity.
We must look at the whole thought-tangle, fact, emotion, idea, truth beyond
idea, conclusion, contradiction, modification, ideal, practice, possibility,
impossibility (which must be yet attempted,) and keeping the soul calm
and the eye clear in this mighty flux and gurge of the world, seek everywhere
for some word of harmony, not forgetting immediate in ultimate truth,
nor ultimate in immediate, but giving each its due place and portion in
the Infinite Purpose. Some minds, like Plato, like Vivekananda, feel more
than others this mighty complexity and give voice to it.
They pour out thought in torrents or in rich and majestic streams. They
are not logically careful of consistency, they cannot build up any coherent,
yet comprehensive systems, but they quicken men's minds and liberate them
from religious, philosophic and scientific dogma and tradition. They leave
the world not surer, but freer than when they entered it.
Some men seek to find the truth by imaginative perception. It is a good
instrument like logic, but like logic it breaks down before it reaches
Neither ought to be allowed to do more than take us some way and then
Others think that a fine judgment can arrive at the true balance. It does,
for a time; but the next generation upsets that fine balancing, consenting
to a coarser test or demanding a finer. The religious prefer inspiration,
but inspiration is like the lightning, brilliantly illuminating only a
given reach of country and leaving the rest in darkness intensified by
the sharpness of that light. Vast is our error if we mistake that bit
of country for the whole universe. Is there then no instrument of knowledge
that can give us the heart of truth and provide us with the key word of
existence? I think there is, but the evolution of mankind at large yet
falls far short of it; their highest tread only on the border of that
illumination. After all pure intellect carries us very high. But neither
the scorner of pure intellectual ideation, nor its fanatic and devotee
can attain to the knowledge in which not only the senses reflect or the
mind thinks about things, but the ideal faculty directly knows them.
Some men sneer at the Siddhis because they do not believe in them,
others because they think it is noble and spiritual to despise them. Both
attitudes proceed from ignorance. It is true that to some natures the
rule of omne ignotum pro magnifico holds and everything that is
beyond their knowledge is readily accepted as true marvel and miracle,
and of such a temper are the credulous made, it is also true that to others
it is omne ignotum pro falso and they cannot forbear ridiculing
as fraud or pitiable superstition everything that is outside the reach
of their philosophy. This is the temper of the incredulous. But the true
temper is to be neither credulous nor incredulous, but calmly and patiently
to inquire. Let the inquiry be scrupulous, but also scrupulously fair
on both sides. Some think it shows superior rationality, even when they
inquire, to be severe, and by that they mean to seize every opportunity
of disproving the phenomenon offered to their attention.
Such an attitude is good rather for limiting knowledge than increasing
it. If it saves us from some errors of assertion, it betrays us into many
errors of negation and postpones developments of the utmost importance
to our human advance.
I do not wish to argue the question of the existence or non-existence
of Yogic siddhis; for it is not with me a question of debate, or
of belief and disbelief, since I know by daily experience that they exist.
I am concerned rather with their exact nature and utility. And here one
is met by the now fashionable habit, among people presuming to be Vedantic
and spiritual, of a denunciation and holy horror of the Yogic siddhis.
They are, it seems, Tantric, dangerous, immoral, delusive as conjuring
tricks, a stumbling block in the path of the soul's liberation. Swami
Vivekananda did much to encourage this attitude by his eagerness to avoid
all mention of them at the outset of his mission in order not to startle
the incredulity of the Europeans. "These things are true" he
said, "but let them lie hidden." And now many who have not the
motives of Vivekananda, think that they can ape his spiritual greatness
by imitating his limitations.
There was no such weakness in the robust temperament of our forefathers.
Our great Rishis of old did not cry out upon Siddhis, but recognised
them as a part, though not the most important part of Yogic accomplishment,
and used them with an abundant and unhesitating vigour. They are recognised
in our sacred books, formally included in Yoga by so devotional a Purana
as the Bhagawat, noted and some of their processes carefully tabled
by Patanjali. Even in the midnight of the Kali[yuga] great Siddhas and
saints have used them more sparingly, but with power and effectiveness.
It would be difficult for many of them to do otherwise than use the siddhis
since by the very fact of their spiritual elevation, these powers have
become not exceptional movements, but the ordinary processes of their
thought and action. It is by the use of the siddhis that the Siddhas
sitting on the mountains help the world out of the heart of their solitude
and silence. Jesus Christ made the use of the siddhis a prominent
feature of his pure, noble and spiritual life, nor did he hesitate to
communicate them to his disciples - the laying of hands, the healing of
the sick, the ashirvada, the abhishap, the speaking with
many tongues were all given to them. The day of Pentecost is still kept
holy by the Christian Church. Joan of Arc used her siddhis to liberate
France. Socrates had his siddhis, some of them of a very material
nature. Men of great genius are usually born with some of them and use
Even in natures far below the power and clarity of genius we see their
occasional or irregular operation. The West, always avid of knowledge,
is struggling, sadly hampered by misuse and imposture, to develop them
and gropes roughly for the truth about them in the phenomena of hypnotism,
clairvoyance, telepathy, vouched for by men and women of great intellectuality
and sincerity. Returning Eastwards, where only their right practice has
been understood, the lives of our saints northern and southern are full
of the record of Siddhis. Sri Ramakrishna, whose authority is quoted
against them, not only made inward use of them but manifested them with
no inconsiderable frequency in His lila. I see nothing in this
long record immoral, dangerous or frivolous. But because Europe looks
with scorn and incredulity on these "miracles" and this "magic",
we too must needs be ashamed of them, hustle them into the background
and plead that only a few charlatans and followers of false paths profess
their use. But as for us, we are men of intellect and spirituality, ascetics,
devotees, self-deniers, Vedantins; for these things we are too high and
we leave them to Theosophists, immoral Tantrics and deluded pseudo-Yogins.
Let us have done with cant and pretension in all matters. There are no
such things as miracles in this world of divine processes, for either
there is no such thing as a miracle or, if we consider more closely, everything
in this world is a miracle. A miracle is, literally, a marvel, a thing
to be wondered at - so long as the process is [not] known. Wireless telegraphy
is a great marvel, the speechless passage of a thought from brain to brain
is a yet greater, yet it happens daily even in the most commonplace minds
and existences. But when the process is known, nothing is left to be wondered
at except the admirable greatness of wisdom, width and variety of conception
and subtlety and minuteness in execution with which this universe is managed.
And even that wonder ceases when we know God and realise that the most
wonderful movements of the cosmos are but trifles and "conjuring-tricks"
compared with His infinite Reality. And as it is with this siddhi
of science which we call wireless telegraphy and with this other siddhi
of nature which is exampled in the momentary or rapid spread of a single
thought or emotion in a mob, a nation, an army, so it is with the Yogic
siddhis. Explain and master their processes, put them in their
proper relation to the rest of the economy of the universe and we shall
find that they are neither miraculous nor marvellous nor supernatural.
They are supernormal only in the way in which aviation is supernormal
or motoring or the Chinese alphabet. Nor is there anything magical in
them except in so far as magic, the science of the Persian Magi, means
originally and properly the operations of superior power or superior knowledge.
And in that sense the occultism of the present day is magic precisely
in the same sense as the scientific experiments of Roger Bacon or Paracelsus.
There is a good deal of fraud and error and self-deception mixed up with
it, but so there was with the earliest efforts of the European scientists.
The defects of Western practitioners or Eastern quacks do not get rid
of our true and ancient Yoga.
The Psychology of Yoga
Sri Aurobindo used this title again for another piece that was written
independently a year or two later and yet again as the general title of
a first group of essays.
Yoga is not a modern invention of the human mind, but our ancient and
prehistoric possession. The Veda is our oldest extant human document and
the Veda, from one point of view, is a great compilation of practical
hints about Yoga.
All religion is a flower of which Yoga is the root; all philosophy, poetry
and the works of genius use it, consciously or unconsciously, as an instrument.
We believe that God created the world by Yoga and by Yoga He will draw
it into Himself again. Yogah prabhavapyayau, Yoga is the birth
and passing away of things.
When Sri Krishna reveals to Arjuna the greatness of His creation and the
manner in which He has built it out of His being by a reconciliation of
logical opposites, he says "Pasya me yogam aishwaram",
Behold my divine Yoga. We usually attach a more limited sense to the word;
when we use or hear it, we think of the details of Patanjali's system,
of rhythmic breathing, of peculiar ways of sitting, of concentration of
mind, of the trance of the adept. But these are merely details of particular
systems. The systems are not the thing itself, any more than the water
of an irrigation canal is the river Ganges. Yoga may be done without the
least thought for the breathing, in any posture or no posture, without
any insistence on concentration, in the full waking condition, while walking,
working, eating, drinking, talking with others, in any occupation, in
sleep, in dream, in states of unconsciousness, semiconsciousness, double-consciousness.
It is no nostrum or system or fixed practice, but an eternal fact
of process based on the very nature of the Universe.
Nevertheless in practice the name may be limited to certain applications
of this general process for specific and definite ends. Yoga stands essentially
on the fact that in this world we are everywhere one, yet divided; one
yet divided in our being, one with yet divided from our fellow creatures
of all kinds, one with yet divided from the infinite existence which we
call God, Nature or Brahman. Yoga, generally, is the power which the soul
in one body has of entering into effective relation with other souls,
with parts of itself which are behind the waking consciousness, with forces
of Nature and objects in Nature, with the Supreme Intelligence, Power
and Bliss which governs the world either for the sake of that union in
itself or for the purpose of increasing or modifying our manifest being,
knowledge, faculty, force or delight. Any system which organises our inner
being and our outer frame for these ends may be called a system of Yoga.
in "Essays Divine and Human" - CWSA Volume 12 - pages 5-19
published by Sri
Aurobindo Ashram - Pondicherry
diffusion by SABDA