The Adventure of Consciousness
Sri Aurobindo or The Adventure of Consciousness
“Sri Aurobindo or The Adventure of Consciousness” is one of the most remarkable books written by Satprem. It has particular appeal to the westerners, who approach yoga subject trough the mind. Many seekers on the path of the Integral Yoga came to know about Sri Aurobindo through reading this book.
There is in Sri Aurobindo a revolutionary, a poet, a philosopher, a visionary of evolution. He is not only the explorer of consciousness, but the builder of a new world. For evolution is not over: “Man is a transitional being,” he wrote at the beginning of the century. This now classic introduction to Sri Aurobindo (in a new edition and translation) not only tells us the story of his life, in itself a remarkable adventure; Satprem also takes us along in a methodical exploration of Sri Aurobindo’s “integral yoga,” showing how it leads to a “divine rehabilitation of Matter” and gives our painful evolution its meaning and hope. “We have denied the Divinity in Matter to confine it in our holy places, and now Matter is taking its revenge — we called it crude, and crude it is. As long as we accept this Imbalance, there is no hope for the earth: we will swing from one pole to the other — both equally false — from material enjoyment to spiritual austerity, without ever finding our plenitude. We need both the vigor of Matter and the fresh waters of the Spirit…. Now the time may have come at last to unveil the Mysteries and to recover the complete truth of the two poles within a third position, which is neither that of the materialists nor that of the spiritualists. – Satprem
- Chapter 1. An Accomplished Westerner
- Chapter 2. The Eternal Law
- Chapter 3. The End of the Intellect
- Chapter 4. The Silent Mind
- Chapter 5. Consciousness
- Chapter 6. Quieting the Vital
- Chapter 7. The Psychic Center
- Chapter 8. Independence from the Physical
- Chapter 9. Sleep and Death
- Chapter 10. The Revolutionary Yogi
- Chapter 11. Oneness
- Chapter 12. The Superconscient
- Chapter 13. Under the Auspices of the Gods
- Chapter 14. The Secret
- Chapter 15. The Supramental Consciousness
- Chapter 16. Man, A Transitional Being
- Chapter 17. The Transformation
Sri Aurobindo or The Adventure of Consciousness
The first stage in Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, and the major task that opens the door to many realizations, is mental silence. Why mental silence, one may ask? Clearly, if we wish to discover a new country within us, we must first leave the old one behind; everything depends upon our determination in taking this first step. Sometimes it can happen in a flash. Something in us cries out: “Enough of this grinding!” We at once are on our way, walking forth without ever looking back. Others say yes then no; they vacillate endlessly between two worlds. Let us emphasize here that the aim is not to amputate from ourselves any painfully acquired possession in the name of Wisdom-Peace-Serenity (we will also avoid using big and empty words); we are not seeking holiness but youth – the eternal youth of an ever-progressing being; we are not seeking a lesser being but a better being and above all a vaster one: Has it not occurred to you that if they really sought for something cold, dark and gloomy as the supreme good, they would not be sages but asses? Sri Aurobindo once humorously remarked.
Actually, one makes all kinds of discoveries when the mental machine stops, and first of all one realizes that if the power to think is a remarkable gift, the power not to think is a far greater one yet; let the seeker try it for just a few minutes, and he will soon see what this means! He will realize that he lives in a surreptitious racket, an exhausting and ceaseless whirlwind exclusively filled with his thoughts, his feelings, his impulses, his reactions – him, always him, an oversized gnome intruding into everything, obscuring everything, hearing and seeing only himself, knowing only himself (if even that!), whose unchanging themes manage to give the illusion of novelty only through their alternation. In a certain sense we are nothing but a complex mass of mental, nervous and physical habits held together by a few ruling ideas, desires and associations – an amalgam of many small self-repeating forces with a few major vibrations. By the age of eighteen we are set, one might say, with our major vibrations established. Then the deposits of the same perpetual thing with a thousand different faces we call culture or “our” self will ceaselessly settle around this primary structure in ever thicker layers, increasingly refined and polished. We are in fact shut in a construction, which may be like lead, without even a small opening, or as graceful as a minaret; but whether in a granite skin or a glass statue, we are nonetheless confined, forever buzzing and repetitive. The first task of yoga is to breathe freely, to shatter that mental screen, which allows only one type of vibration to get through, in order to discover the multicolored infinity of vibrations; that is, the world and people as they really are, and another “self” within ourselves, whose worth is beyond any mental appreciation.
When we sit with our eyes closed to silence the mind, we are at first submerged by a torrent of thoughts; they crop up from every side, like frightened or even aggressive rats. There is only one way to stop this racket: to try and try again, patiently and persistently; above all, we must shift our concentration elsewhere, and not make the mistake of struggling mentally with the mind. All of us have, above the mind or deep inside ourselves, an aspiration, the very thing that has put us on the path in the first place, a yearning of our being, a password that has a special meaning for us; if we cling to that, the work becomes easier, positively rather than negatively oriented, and the more we repeat our password, the more powerful it becomes. We can also use an image, for instance that of a vast ocean without a ripple upon which we float, becoming that tranquil vastness. We thus learn not only silence but expansion of consciousness. Each person must find his own method, and the less tension he brings to it, the more quickly he will succeed: One may start a process of one kind or another for the purpose which would normally mean a long labour and be seized, even at the outset, by a rapid intervention or manifestation of Silence with an effect out of all proportion to the means used at the beginning. One commences with a method, but the work it taken up by a Grace from above, from That to which one aspires or an irruption of the infinitudes of the Spirit. It was in this last way that I myself came by the mind’s absolute silence, unimaginable to me before I had its actual experience. This is a most important point indeed. For we might think that these yogic experiences are all very nice and interesting, but that they are far beyond our ordinary human grasp; how could we, such as we are, ever get there? Our mistake is in judging with our present self possibilities that belong to another self. By the simple fact of setting out on the path, the yoga automatically awakens a whole range of latent faculties and invisible forces that far exceed the possibilities of our outer being and can do for us things that we are normally incapable of doing: One had to have the passage clear between the outer mind and something in the inner being . . . for they (the Yogic consciousness and its powers) are already there within you, and the best way of “clearing” the passage is to silence the mind. We do not know who we are, and still less what we are capable of.
But exercises of meditation are not the true solution to the problem (though they may be necessary at the beginning to provide an initial momentum), because even if we achieve a relative silence, the moment we set foot outside our room or retreat, we fall right back into the usual turmoil as well as into the familiar separation between inner and outer self, inner life and worldly life. What we need is a total life; we need to live the truth of our being every day, at every moment, not only on holidays or in solitude, and blissful meditations in pastoral settings simply will not achieve this. We may get incrusted in our spiritual seclusion and find it difficult later on to pour ourselves triumphantly outwards and apply to life our gains in the higher Nature. When we turn to add this external kingdom also to our inner conquests, we shall find ourselves too much accustomed to an activity purely subjective and ineffective on the material plane. There will be an immense difficulty in transforming the outer life and the body. Or we shall find that our action does not correspond with the inner light: it still follows the old accustomed mistaken paths, still obeys the old normal imperfect influences; the Truth within us continues to be separated by a painful gulf from the ignorant mechanism of our external nature. . . . It is as if we were living in another, a larger and subtler world and had no divine hold, perhaps little hold of any kind, upon the material and terrestrial experience. The only solution is therefore to practice silencing the mind just where it is seemingly the most difficult: on the street, in the subway, at work, everywhere. Instead of going through Grand Central Station four times a day like someone hounded and forever in a rush, we can walk there consciously, as a seeker. Instead of living haphazardly, dispersed in a multitude of thoughts, which not only lack any excitement but are also as exhausting as a broken record, we can gather the scattered threads of our consciousness and work on ourselves at every moment. Then life begins to become surprisingly exciting, because the least little circumstance becomes an opportunity for victory; we are focused; we are going somewhere instead of going nowhere.
For yoga is not a way of doing but of being.
This post is also available in: Russian