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object:1.05 - Consciousness
class:chapter
book class:Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness
author class:Satprem
subject class:Integral Yoga


A disciple once had to make a critical decision. He wrote to Sri Aurobindo for advice and was quite puzzled when he was told to make his decision from the "summit" of his consciousness." He was a Westerner and wondered what on earth this could mean. Was this "summit of consciousness" a special way of thinking very intensely, a sort of enthusiasm produced when the brain warms up? For this is the only kind of "consciousness" we know in the West. For us,
consciousness is always a mental process: "I think, therefore I am."
Such is our own particular bias; we place ourselves at the center of the world and bestow the gift of consciousness upon all those who share our way of being and perceiving things. Not so long ago, we marveled that one could be Persian. However, if we want to understand and discover what consciousness truly is, and utilize it, we must indeed go beyond this narrow perspective. After having attained a certain degree of mental silence, Sri Aurobindo was able to make the following observations: Mental consciousness is only the human range which no more exhausts all the possible ranges of consciousness than human sight exhausts all the gradations of color or human hearing all the gradations of sound for there is much above or below that is to man invisible and inaudible. So there are ranges of consciousness above and below the human range, with which the normal human has no contact and they seem to it unconscious, supramental or overmental and submental ranges.42 . . . What we call unconsciousness is simply other-consciousness. . . . We are really no more unconscious when we are asleep or stunned or drugged or "dead" or in any other state, than when we are plunged in inner thought oblivious of our physical selves and our surroundings. For anyone who has advanced even a little way in Yoga, this is a most elementary proposition. And Sri Aurobindo adds: As we progress and awaken to the soul in us and things, we shall realize that there is a consciousness also in the plant,
42

Letters on Yoga, 22:234


in the metal, in the atom, in electricity, in everything that belongs to physical nature; we shall find even that it is not really in all respects a lower or more limited mode than the mental; on the contrary, it is in many "inanimate" forms more intense, rapid, poignant, though less evolved towards the surface.43 The task of the beginning yogi is therefore to become conscious in every way, at all the levels of his being and all the degrees of universal existence, not just mentally; to become conscious in himself and in others and in all things, while awake and in sleep; and finally, to learn to become conscious in what people call "death," because, to the extent that we have been conscious in our life, we shall be conscious in our death.
But we do not have to take Sri Aurobindo's word for it. On the contrary, he strongly urges us to see for ourselves. We must therefore strive to unravel that in us which connects all our modes of being
sleep, waking and "death" and enables us to come into contact with other forms of consciousness.

The Centers of Consciousness Pursuing our experimental method based on mental silence, we are led to several discoveries that will gradually put us on the track. First, we see the general confusion in which we live slowly settle; more and more clearly, strata will appear in our being as if we were made up of separate fragments, each with its own individual personality and specific center, and, what is more, with its own life independent of the others. This polyphony (or, rather, cacophony) is generally masked from us by the voice of the mind, which drowns out and appropriates everything. There is not a single movement of our being, at any level,
not a single emotion, not a single desire, not the batting of an eyelash,
that is not instantly snatched up by the mind and covered over with a layer of thought; in other words, we mentalize everything. This is the great purpose of the mind in evolution: it helps bring to our conscious surface all the movements of our being that would otherwise remain as a formless subconscious or superconscious magma. It also helps us 43

The Synthesis of Yoga, 20:370


establish some semblance of order in this anarchy by organizing all these tiny feudal states under its sovereignty. But, in so doing, it veils from us their voices and true workings; there is only one step from sovereignty to tyranny. The supermental mechanisms are totally obstructed; or if something of the superconscious voices manages to get through, it is immediately distorted, diluted, and obscured.
Similarly, the submental mechanisms become atrophied, depriving us of spontaneous senses that were very useful at an earlier stage of our evolution and could still be. Other minorities of our being line up in rebellion, while still others secretly accumulate their little power,
waiting for the first opportunity to fly in our faces. But the seeker who has silenced his mind will begin to discern all these states in their bare reality, without their mental veneer; he will feel, at various levels of his being, certain centers of concentration, or nodes of force, each with its own particular vibratory quality or frequency. We have all experienced, at least once in our lives, vibrations radiating at different levels of our being and with different densities; a great revelatory vibration, for example, when a veil seems to be suddenly rent and we are shown a whole vision of truth, without words, without our even knowing exactly what the revelation consists of; something simply vibrates, which makes the world inexplicably wider, lighter, and clearer; or heavier vibrations of anger or fear, vibrations of desire,
vibrations of sympathy. Thus, there is in us an entire gamut of vibratory nodules or centers of consciousness, each specialized in a specific type of vibration, which can be distinguished and perceived directly according to the degree of our silence and the acuity of our perceptions. The mind is only one of these centers, one type of vibration, one of the forms of consciousness, though it seeks to take first place.
The central channel and the two interlacing side channels correspond to the medullary canal and, probably, to the sympathetic nervous system. They are the paths through which the ascending Force (Kundalini) travels, after awakening in the lower center, and rises from center to center "like a serpent" to blossom at the top of the head in the Superconscient. (This seems to be also the significance of the uraeus, the Egyptian naja that adorned the Pharaoh's headdress; the Mexican quetzalcoatl, or plumed serpent; and perhaps the naga snakes

overhanging Buddha's head.) The detailed features of these centers are of interest only to professional clairvoyants; we will discuss later some details of general interest. A complete study on the question can be found in the remarkable work of Sir John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon), The Serpent Power (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1913).
We will not dwell here on the description of these centers as tradition refers to them, for it is better to experience things oneself rather than to talk about them, nor will we discuss their positions in the body; the seeker will feel them himself without any difficulty as soon as he becomes a little clear. Suffice it to say that these centers (called Chakras in India) are not located in our physical body but in another dimension, though their concentration may at times become so intense that we have an acute, localized physical sensation. Some of them, though not all, are in fact quite close to the body's nervous plexuses. Roughly speaking, there are seven centers distributed in four zones: (1) The Superconscient, with one center slightly above the top of the head,44 which controls our thinking mind and communicates with higher mental realms: illumined mind, intuitive mind, overmind,
etc. (2) The Mind, with two centers: one between the eyebrows, which controls the will and dynamism of our mental activity (it is also the center of subtle vision, the "third eye" certain traditions speak of); the other, at throat level, controls all the forms of mental expression. (3)
The Vital, with three centers: one at heart level, which controls our emotional being (love, hatred, etc.); the second at the level of the navel, which controls our impulses for domination, possession and conquest, as well as our ambitions, etc.; and a third, the lower vital,
between the navel and the sex center, at the level of the mesenteric plexus, which controls the lowest vibrations: jealousy, envy, desire,
greed, anger. (4) The Physical and the Subconscient,45 with a center at the base of the spine, which controls our physical being and sexual 44

According to Indian tradition, this center, called "the thousand-petaled lotus" to express the luminous fullness one perceives when it opens up, is located at the top of the head.
45
Throughout this book we have kept Sri Aurobindo's terminology Subconscient,
Inconscient to emphasize the etymological sense in which he used these words,
i.e., that which is historically sub-conscious, not below the level of our waking consciousness but below the conscious stage in the evolutionary sense.


impulses; this center also opens up to the subconscious regions farther below.
According to Sri Aurobindo and the experience of many others,
what is felt at the top of the head is not the center itself, but the luminous reflection of a solar source located above the head.
Generally, in a "normal" man, these centers are asleep or closed, or they only let through whatever small current is necessary for his limited existence; he is truly confined in himself and communicates only indirectly with the outside world, in a very narrow range; in fact,
he does not see other people or things but himself in others, himself in things, himself in everything, interminably. With yoga, the centers open. They can open in two ways: from bottom to top or from top to bottom, depending on whether we practice traditional yogic and spiritual methods, or Sri Aurobindo's yoga. As mentioned earlier,
through concentration and exercises, we can eventually feel a Force awakening at the bottom of the spine and ascending from level to level up to the top of the head, with an undulating movement, just like a snake. At each level this Force pierces (rather violently) through the corresponding center, which opens up, thereby putting us in contact with all the universal vibrations or energies associated with the frequency of that particular center. With Sri Aurobindo's yoga, the descending Force opens the same centers, slowly and gently, from top to bottom. Often, the lower centers do not even fully open until much later. This process has a distinct advantage if we appreciate that each center corresponds to a universal mode of consciousness or energy.
To open the lower vital or subconscious centers at the beginning is to run the risk of being flooded not only by our own small personal problems, but by torrents of universal mud; we are automatically in contact with the confusion and mud of the world. This is why traditional yogas require the protective presence of a Master. With the descending Force this danger is avoided; we confront the lower centers only after our being is firmly established in the higher,
superconscious light. Once the seeker controls his centers, he begins to know things and beings, the world and himself, as they really are,
for he is no longer receiving external signs, dubious words or gestures the charade of the confined man or the closed face of things but

the pure vibration at each level, in each thing and each being, which nothing can disguise.
But our foremost discovery concerns ourselves. If we follow a discipline similar to that described for mental silence, and remain perfectly transparent, we will soon notice that not only mental vibrations come from outside before entering our centers, but everything comes from outside: the vibrations of desire, of joy, of will,
etc. From top to bottom, our being is a receiving station: Truly, we do not think, will or act but thought occurs in us, will occurs in us,
impulse and act occur in us.46 If we say: "I think, therefore I am," or "I
feel, therefore I am," or "I want, therefore I am," we are like a child who believes that the disc jockey or the orchestra is hidden in the radio set and that TV is a thinking medium. Indeed, none of these I's is ourselves, nor do they belong to us, for their music is universal.

46

The Synthesis of Yoga, 20:203


The Centers of Consciousness according to the Indian Tantric Tradition
The Frontal Being Nonetheless, we might be tempted to protest that these are our feelings, our pains, our desires; this is our own sensitive nature, not some kind of telegraphic machinery! True, it is our nature, in the sense that we have grown accustomed to responding to certain vibrations rather than to others, to being moved or pained by certain things rather

than by others; and this set of habits has, apparently, crystallized into a personality we call our "self." Yet, if we look more closely, we can hardly say that it is "we" who have acquired all these habits. Our environment, our education, our atavism, our traditions have made the choice for us. At every instant they choose what we want or desire,
what we like or dislike. It is as if life took place without us. When does a real "I" burst forth in all this? Universal Nature, Sri Aurobindo wrote, deposits certain habits of movement, personality, character,
faculties, dispositions, tendencies in us, and that is what we usually call ourselves.47 Nor can we say that this "self" has any true fixity:
The appearance of stability is given by constant repetition and recurrence of the same vibrations and formations,4 because it is always the same wavelengths that we pick up or, rather, that picks us up, consistent with the laws of our environment or education; it is always the same mental, vital or other vibrations that return through our centers, and that we appropriate automatically, unconsciously, and endlessly. In reality, everything is in a state of constant flux, and everything comes to us from a mind vaster than ours (a universal mind), a vital vaster than ours (a universal vital), from lower subconscious regions, or from higher superconscious ones. Thus this small frontal being48 is surrounded, overhung, supported, pervaded by and set in motion by a whole hierarchy of "worlds," as ancient wisdom well knew: "Without effort one world moves in the other," says the Rig Veda (II.24-5), or, as Sri Aurobindo says, by a gradation of planes of consciousness, which range without break from pure Spirit to Matter, and are directly connected to each of our centers. Yet we are conscious only of some bubbling on the surface.49
What remains of ourselves in all this? Not much, to tell the truth,
or everything, depending on which level we focus our consciousness.

The Individualization of Consciousness We are beginning to have an idea of what consciousness is and to 47
48
49

Letters on Yoga, 22:358
The Synthesis of Yoga, 20:170
Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, Vol. II, 119


sense that it is everywhere in the universe, at every level, with corresponding centers in ourselves, but we have not yet found "our"
consciousness perhaps because consciousness is not something to be found ready-made, but something to kindle like a fire. At certain privileged moments in our existence, we have felt something like a warmth in our being, a kind of inner impetus or vivid energy that no words can describe, no reason can explain, because it arises from nowhere, without cause, naked like a need or a flame. Our childhood often bears witness to this pure enthusiasm, this inexplicable nostalgia; but soon we grow out of adolescence. The mind seizes upon this force as it does with everything else and covers it with pretentious, idealistic words; it channels it into a physical undertaking,
a job, or a church. Or else the vital captures it and daubs it with more or less lofty sentiments unless it uses it for some personal adventure,
or for domination, conquest or possession. In some cases, this force gets bogged down even lower. And sometimes everything is swallowed up, such that only a diminutive shadow remains beneath an onerous burden. But the seeker who has silenced his mind and no longer falls prey to ideas, who has quieted his vital being and is no longer overcome and scattered at every instant by the great confusion of feelings and desires, discovers in the newly acquired clarity of his nature something like a new youth, a new and unrestrained impetus.
As his concentration grows stronger through his "active meditations,"
through his aspiration and need, he will feel this impetus begin to acquire a life of its own within him: "It widens, bringing out that which lives," says the Rig Veda (I.113-8), "awakening someone who was dead." He will feel it assume an increasingly distinct consistency,
an ever denser strength and, above all, an independence, as if there were both a force and a being within his own being. He will notice,
first in his passive meditations (when he is quiet, at home, his eyes closed), that this force in him has mass, varying intensity, and movement, that it moves up and down inside him as if it were fluid
much like the shifting of a living substance. These movements inside him can even be powerful enough to bend his body as the force descends, or to straighten it and draw it backward as it rises. In our active meditations, in daily external life, this force inside is more diluted and feels like a tiny muffled vibration in the background, as

we have said earlier; further, we feel it not only as an impersonal force but as a presence, a being in our depths, as if we had a support,
something giving us solidity and strength, almost like an armor, as well as a serene outlook on the world. With this imperceptible vibration inside, we are invulnerable, and we are no longer alone. It is there in all circumstances, all the time. It is warm, intimate, strong.
Strangely enough, once we have found it, we find the same thing everywhere, in all beings and in all things; we can communicate directly, as if everything were the same, without separation. We have touched something within us that is not the mere puppet of universal forces, not the narrow and dry "I think, therefore I am," but the fundamental reality of our being, our true self, true center, warmth and being, consciousness and force.50
As this inner urge or force takes on a distinct individuality, as it grows as indeed a child grows, the seeker will become aware that it does not move at random, as he had thought at first, but converges at certain points of his being, depending upon his current activity, and is in fact behind each of the centers of consciousness: behind the mental centers when we think, assert a will or express something; behind the vital centers when we feel, suffer or desire; or farther down or farther up. That force actually becomes aware of things; all the centers,
including the mind, are only its openings on the different levels of universal reality, its instruments of transcription and expression. It is the traveller of the worlds,51 the explorer of the planes of consciousness; it connects our various modes of being together, from waking to sleep to death, when the small outer mind is no longer there to inform or guide us; it pervades the entire range of universal existence and communicates everywhere.
In other words, we have discovered consciousness. We have isolated what in ordinary man is constantly mixed with other things,
dispersed, entangled in his endless mental or sensory activities.
Instead of being forever positioned somewhere between the abdomen and the forehead, we are now able to shift our consciousness to deeper 50

We will return to this center, which Sri Aurobindo calls the psychic center or psychic being, and others call the soul.
51
Savitri, 28:93


or higher regions, inaccessible to the mind and our sense organs; for consciousness is not a way of thinking or feeling (or at least not just that), but a power to come in contact with the multitude of gradations of existence, either visible or invisible. The more our consciousness develops, the greater its range of action and the number of gradations it can reach. We will also find that this consciousness is independent of the thoughts, feelings, and desires of our small frontal being; it is independent of the mind, of the vital being, and even of the physical body; in certain particular conditions, which we will discuss later, it can even go outside the body to have its own experiences. Our body,
our thoughts, our desires are only a thin layer of our total existence.

Consciousness-Force, Consciousness-Joy When we discover consciousness, we find it is a force. Remarkably,
we even start noticing it as a current or inner force before realizing it is a consciousness. Consciousness is force, consciousness-force, as Sri Aurobindo calls it, for the two terms are truly inseparable and interchangeable. The ancient wisdom of India knew this well, and never spoke of consciousness, Chit, without adjoining to it the term Agni, heat, flame, energy: Chit-Agni (sometimes also called Tapas, a synonym of Agni: Chit-Tapas). The Sanskrit word for spiritual or yogic discipline is tapasya, that which produces heat or energy, or,
more correctly, consciousness-heat or consciousness-energy. Agni, or Chit-Agni, is the same everywhere. We speak of descending or ascending Force, of inner force, of mental, vital, or material force, but there are not a hundred different kinds of forces; there is only one Force in the world, a single current that circulates through us as it circulates through all things, and takes on one attribute or another,
depending upon the particular level of its action. Our electric current can light up a tabernacle or a bar, a schoolroom or a restaurant; it is still the same current, though it illuminates different objects. So too,
this Force, this Warmth, Agni, is till the same whether it animates or illuminates our inner recesses, our mental factory, our vital theater, or our material lair; depending on the level, it takes on a more or less intense light, heavier or lighter vibrations: superconscious, mental,


vital, physical, but it does link everything together, animates everything. It is the fundamental substance of the universe:
Consciousness-Force, Chit-Agni.
While consciousness is a force, the reverse is also true: force is consciousness; all the forces are conscious.52 Universal Force is universal Consciousness. This is what the seeker discovers. After coming in contact with the current of consciousness-force in himself,
he can attune himself to any plane of universal reality, at any point,
and perceive or understand the consciousness there, and even act upon it, since the same current of consciousness is everywhere with only different modes of vibration, whether in a plant or in the thoughts of a human mind, whether in the luminous superconscient or the instincts of an animal, whether in metal or in our deepest meditations. If a piece of wood were not conscious, no yogi could displace it through concentration, because there would be no possibility of contact with it.
If a single point of the universe were totally unconscious, the whole universe would be totally unconscious, because there cannot be two things. With Einstein we have learned a great discovery indeed
that Matter and Energy are interchangeable: E=mc2 ; Matter is condensed Energy. We must now discover experientially that this Energy, or Force, is Consciousness, that Matter too is a form of consciousness, just as the Mind is a form of consciousness, and the Vital and Superconscient are other forms of consciousness. Once we find this Secret consciousness in force we will have the true, and direct, mastery of material energy. But we are merely rediscovering very ancient truths; four thousand years ago the Upanishads knew that Matter is condensed Energy, or rather condensed ConsciousnessEnergy: "By energism of Consciousness53 Brahman is massed; from that Matter is born and from Matter Life and Mind and the worlds."
(Mundaka Upanishad I.1.8)
All here is Consciousness, because all is Being or Spirit. All is Chit, because all is Sat Sat-Chit at every level of Its own manifestation. The history of our earthly evolution is nothing but a slow conversion of Force into Consciousness or, more exactly, a slow 52
53

On Yoga II, Tome 2, 197
Tapas.


remembering of Itself by the Consciousness buried in its own Force.
During the primary stages of evolution, the consciousness of the atom,
for example, is absorbed in its whirling, as the consciousness of a potter is absorbed in the pot he is making, oblivious to everything else,
as the plant is absorbed in its photosynthesis, as our own consciousness can be absorbed in a book or a desire, oblivious to all the other levels of its own reality. All evolutionary progress is ultimately measured by the capacity to extricate and free the element of consciousness from its element of force this is what is meant by "individualization of consciousness." At the spiritual or yogic stage of evolution, consciousness is completely freed, released from its mental,
vital, and physical turmoil; it is its own master and can move through the entire range of vibrations of consciousness, from the atom to the Spirit; the Force has totally become Consciousness, totally remembered Itself. Finally, to remember oneself is to remember everything, because it is the Spirit in us remembering the Spirit in everything.
Simultaneously, as the Force regains its Consciousness, it regains the mastery of its force and of all forces; because to be conscious is to have power. Neither the whirling atom nor the man treading the biological rut and laboring in his mental factory has any control over the mental, vital, or atomic forces: they merely go round and round.
At the conscious stage, by contrast, we are free and in control of our actions, verifying tangibly that consciousness is a force, a substance,
which can be handled as one handles hydroxides or electric fields: If one becomes aware of the inner consciousness, wrote Sri Aurobindo,
one can do all sorts of things with it, send it out as a stream of force,
erect a circle or wall of consciousness around oneself, direct an idea so that it shall enter somebody's head in America, etc. etc. 54 He further explains: The Invisible Force producing tangible results both inward and outward is the whole meaning of the Yogic consciousness. . . . If we had not had thousands of experiences showing that the Power within could alter the mind, develop its powers, add new ones, bring in new ranges of knowledge, master the vital movements, change the character, influence men and things, control the conditions and 54

Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, Vol. II, 83


functionings of the body, work as a concrete dynamic Force on other forces, modify events . . . we would not speak of it as we do.
Moreover, it is not only in its results but in its movements that the Force is tangible and concrete. When I speak of feeling Force or Power, I do not mean simply having a vague sense of it, but feeling it concretely and consequently being able to direct it, manipulate it,
watch its movements, be conscious of its mass and intensity and in the same way as of other opposing forces. 55 Later we will see that Consciousness can act upon Matter and transform it. This ultimate conversion of Matter into Consciousness, and perhaps one day even of Consciousness into Matter, is the aim of the supramental yoga, which we will discuss later. There are many degrees of development of the consciousness-force, from the seeker or aspirant just awakening to his inner need, to the yogi; even among yogis there are many degrees
that is where the true hierarchy begins.
There remains a final equivalence. Not only is consciousness force, not only is consciousness being, but consciousness is also joy,
Ananda Consciousness-Joy, Chit-Ananda. To be conscious is joy.
When consciousness is released from the thousands of mental, vital or physical vibrations in which it was buried, we awaken to joy. The whole being is in effect filled with a mass of vibrant, crystalline,
motionless, aimless force ("like a well-shaped pillar," as the Rig Veda says, V.45) pure consciousness, pure force, pure joy, for it is all the same thing a concrete joy, a vast and peaceful substance of joy,
which seems to have neither beginning nor end nor reason, and seems to be everywhere, in all things and beings, as their secret foundation and secret need to grow. No one wants to give up life because this joy is there everywhere. It needs nothing to exist; it is, irrefutably, like a bedrock throughout time and space, like a smile behind everything.
There lies the entire Riddle of the universe. That's all there is. An imperceptible smile a mere nothing that is everything. All is Joy because all is the Spirit which is Joy, Sat-Chit-Ananda. ExistenceConsciousness-Joy the eternal trinity that is the universe, and which we are, the secret we must discover and live through the long evolutionary journey. "From Delight all these beings are born, by 55

Sri Aurobindo Came to Me, 206


Delight they exist and grow, to Delight they return." (Taittiriya Upanishad, III.6)




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