classes ::: chapter, Sri_Aurobindo_or_the_Adventure_of_Consciousness, Satprem, Integral_Yoga,
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Instances, Classes, See Also, Object in Names
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object:1.12 - The Superconscient
class:chapter
book class:Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness
author class:Satprem
subject class:Integral Yoga

A triple change of consciousness, then, charts our journey on earth: the discovery of the psychic being or immanent Spirit, the discovery of Nirvana or transcendent Spirit, and the discovery of the central being of cosmic Spirit. This is probably the real meaning of the Father-Son-Holy Ghost trinity of the Christian tradition. Our purpose is not to decide which experience is better than the other, but to verify them for ourselves. Philosophies and religions dispute about the priority of different aspects of God and different Yogins, Rishis and Saints have preferred this or that philosophy or religion. Our business is not to dispute any of them, but to realize and become all of them, not to follow after any aspect to the exclusion of the rest, but to embrace God in all His aspects and beyond aspect 161 this is the very meaning of an integral yoga. Still, we wonder if there is nothing beyond this triple discovery, because however supreme each of them may seem when we experience it, none gives us the integral fulfillment to which we aspire, at least if we consider that both the earth and the individual must participate in this fulfillment.

Discovering the psychic being, for instance, is a great realization we become aware of our divinity but it remains limited to the individual and does not extend beyond the personal walls that confine us.

Discovering the central being is a very encompassing realization the world becomes our own being but we lose the sense of individuality; indeed, it would be a mistake to think of a Mr. Smith sitting in the middle of his cosmic consciousness and enjoying the view for there is no more Mr. Smith.

Discovering the Transcendent is a very lofty realization, but we lose both the individual and the world there is nothing left but That, forever outside of the human play. In theory, we can say that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one in theory we can say anything we like but in practice, when we experience them, each of these changes of consciousness seems to be cut off from the others by a vast gulf. As long as we do not find a practical way of reconciling that triple hiatus among pantheist, individualist, and monist, there will be no fulfillment, neither for the individual nor for the world. It is not enough to find our individual center and leave out the totality of the world, or to find the totality of the world and leave out the individual, and even less so to find supreme Peace if both the world and our individuality are dissolved "I do not want to be sugar," the great Ramakrishna exclaimed, "I want to eat sugar!" In this chaotic and harried world where we have to act, to confront things, to become, we need primordially to be. Without this being, our becoming is squandered in the prevailing chaos. But without this becoming, our being dissolves into a blissful Zero.162 And without an individuality, what do marvelous realizations really matter, since we are no longer there? Such is the contradiction we must resolve, not in philosophical terms, but in terms of life and power of action. Until now, such a reconciling path has seemed nonexistent or unknown; this is why all religions and spiritualities have placed the transcendent Father at the top of the hierarchy, outside this whole unfortunate chaos, urging us to search elsewhere for the totality to which we aspire. Yet intuition tell us that if we, beings endowed with a body, aspire to totality, then totality must be possible; it must be possible in a body, otherwise we would not aspire to it. There is no such thing as "imagination"; there are only deferred realities, or truths awaiting their time. In his own way, Jules Verne testifies to this. Is there not something else to discover, then, a fourth change of consciousness that would change everything?


In his iron cage in the middle of the courtroom, Sri Aurobindo had reached the end of the road. One after another, he had realized the Immanent, the Transcendent, and the Universal that cage scarcely held anything more than a body: in his consciousness, he was everywhere at will. But perhaps he was recalling an individual named Aurobindo, who since Cambridge and his years in the West had continuously accumulated consciousness in that body, and now the infinite Consciousness was a reality, but that body remained the same as millions of others, subject to the same laws of Nature, hungry, thirsty, and occasionally ill, like all the other bodies, and advancing slowly but surely towards disintegration. The consciousness is vast, luminous, immortal, but underneath everything remains the same. And because he was clear-sighted, because he was no longer fooled by all the masks added on by morality or decency, perhaps he was also espying, in the subconscient, the animal grimace beneath the infinite Consciousness, and the same material squalor intact beneath the lovely halo for underneath everything continues as usual, and nothing is changed. Perhaps he was also looking, beyond the cage, at all his other selves who continued to judge and hate and suffer. Who is saved unless all is saved? And what did that infinite Consciousness do for all these people? It sees, it knows, but what can it do? Had he not left Baroda to act, to do something concrete? There he was, watching everything in his infinite consciousness, experiencing the immense joy above, feeling joy laugh nude on the peaks of the Absolute,163 but what could his joy do if the above were not also everywhere below? Below, everything continues as before, suffering, and dying. He was not listening to the judges, or even answering the questions on which his life depended; he was only hearing the Voice repeating: I am guiding, therefore fear not. Turn to your own Work for which I have brought you to jail. Thus Sri Aurobindo kept his eyes closed in that cage, searching within. Was there not a totality above that could be also the totality below? Had the road come to an end with this golden impotence?164 What was the sense of this whole journey?

The soul, which for some inexplicable reason has come into this Matter, or becomes this Matter, evolves slowly over the ages; it grows, takes on an individuality through its senses, its mind, its experiences; more and more it recalls its lost or submerged divinity, its consciousness within its force, finally to recognize itself and return to its Origin, transcendent and nirvanic, or cosmic, depending upon its destiny and its inclinations. Is this whole saga, then, only a long and laborious trajectory from the Divine to the Divine through the dark purgatory of Matter? But why the purgatory? Why this Matter? Why ever enter it at all if it is only to get out? Some will say that the cosmic or nirvanic beatitudes of the end are well worth all the grievances of the journey. That may be so, but meanwhile the earth suffers; we may be beaming up there in supreme bliss, but torture, illness and death are still proliferating and thriving down here; our cosmic consciousness makes not an atom of difference in the earth's evolution, and our Nirvana still less. Some will say that every human being should do the same and awaken from his state of error all right, but again why the earth if it is merely to awaken from the error of the earth? We speak of "the fall," of Adam and Eve, of some absurd original sin which ruined what God had made perfect in the beginning yet everything is God!

The serpent of paradise, if every there were one, was God, and so were Satan and his Pomp and his Works. There is nothing but Him!

Would He then be so clumsy as to fall unknowingly, so helpless as to suffer unwillingly, or so sadistic as to play at being at fault just for the fun of getting Himself out of His fault? Is the earth just a mistake? For if this earth does not have a meaning for the earth, if the suffering of the world does not have a meaning for the world, if it is only a place of transit to purge ourselves of some absurd mistake, then nothing and no one, neither supreme bliss nor ultimate ecstasy, will ever excuse this useless interlude God did not need to enter Matter if it was to get out of it; God did not need Death and Suffering and Ignorance, unless this Suffering, Death, and Ignorance bear their own meaning, unless this earth and this body are ultimately the place of a Secret that changes everything, and not merely instruments of purgation or escape.

I climb not to thy everlasting Day
Even as I have shunned thy eternal Night. . .
Thy servitudes on earth are greater, king,
Than all the glorious liberties of heaven. . .
Too far thy heavens for me from suffering men.
Imperfect is the joy not shared by all.165

Yet, if we look more closely at this enigma, at this kernel of soul around which the whole mystery revolves, we must admit that the soul does not need in the least to be "saved"; it is forever free and pure, forever saved in its own light. The moment we enter the soul with our eyes wide open, we see that it is exquisitely divine and light, untouched by all the mud flung at it. It is the earth that must be saved, because it is overburdened; it is life that must be saved, because it is dying. Where is the seed that can perform that Deliverance? Where is the Power that will deliver? Where is the world's true salvation? The spiritualists are right in wanting us to taste the supreme lightness of the soul, but so too are the materialists, who churn Matter and seek to bring out wonders from that denseness. But they do not have the Secret. No one has the Secret. The wonders of the former have no body, and those of the latter no soul.

The body, yes, the body, which at first had seemed to be only an obscure instrument for the liberation of the Spirit, may be precisely, paradoxically, the place of an unknown totality of the Spirit: These seeming Instrumentals are the key to a secret without which the Fundamentals themselves would not unveil all their mystery.166 "Turn to your own Work," said the Voice. This Work was not to bask in cosmic bliss, but to find here, in this body and for the earth, a new path that would integrate within a single form of consciousness the freedom of the Transcendent, the living immensity of the Cosmic, and the joy of an individual soul on a fulfilled earth and in a truer life. For the true change of consciousness, the Mother says, is one that will change the physical conditions of the world and make of it a new creation.


161 - The Hour of God, 17:62
162 - The Synthesis of Yoga, 20:320
163 - Savitri, 29:454
164 - The Synthesis of Yoga, 20:162
165 - Savitri, 29:686
166 - The Synthesis of Yoga, 20:110


The Conditions of the Discovery



If we wish "to change the physical conditions of the world," that is,
the so-called natural laws that rule our life and the world, and if we want to implement this change through a power of consciousness, then two conditions are required. First, we must work in our own individual body without seeking any escape in the beyond, since this body is the very point of insertion of consciousness into Matter; and secondly, we must seek to discover the principle of consciousness that will have the power to transform Matter. So far, as we can readily see, none of the forms of consciousness or levels of consciousness known to humanity has had the power to bring about this change, neither mental consciousness nor vital consciousness nor physical consciousness. True, through sheer discipline some individuals have managed to defy natural laws and to overcome gravity, cold, hunger, illness, etc. But, first, these were individual changes that could never be passed along, and secondly, they do not really transform Matter: the laws governing the body remain essentially the same, while certain special effects, supernatural in appearance, are superimposed more or less temporarily over nature. Here we can recall the example of another revolutionary yogi, a companion of Sri Aurobindo's, who was once bitten by a rabid dog. Using his power of consciousness, he immediately blocked the effects of the virus and went on with his life as if nothing had happened (let us note in passing that had this yogi been in a perfect state of consciousness, he could not have been bitten in the first place). But one day, during a particularly stormy political meeting, he lost his temper and flew into a rage at one of the speakers.

A few hours later he was dying in the terrible throes of rabies. His power came only from the control of his consciousness, and the instant his consciousness faltered, everything returned as it was before, because the laws of the body had not been changed, only muzzled. Therefore, the kind of change Sri Aurobindo and Mother envision has nothing to do with acquiring more or less temporary "supernatural" powers and draping them over our natural powers, but with changing man's very nature as well as his physical conditioning; it is not control but actual transformation. Furthermore, if we seek an earth-wide realization, this new principle of existence, which Sri Aurobindo calls supramental, must definitively establish itself among us, at first in a few individuals, then, by contagion, in all those who are ready much as the mental principle and the life principle have become naturally and definitively established on earth. In other words, it involves creating a divine superhumanity on earth, which will no longer be subject to the laws of ignorance, suffering, and decay.

The undertaking may seem formidable or chimerical, but this is only because we see things on the scale of a few decades. Actually, it would be very much in keeping with the evolutionary process itself.

Indeed, if we take all this earthly evolution to be an evolution of the Spirit in forms, all these human births to be a growth of the soul and Spirit in man, we may doubt whether the Spirit will always be satisfied with human narrowness, just as we may ask why It should, at the end of the journey, simply return to Its supraterrestrial Glory and Joy, which It did not need to leave in the first place; after all, the Light is already there, eternally, immutably, and it hardly represents a conquest for the Spirit! But Matter . . . there is a heaven to be built!

Perhaps It seeks to experience the same Glory and Joy in conditions seemingly contrary to Its own, in a life besieged by death, ignorance, and obscurity, in the multitudinous diversity of the world, instead of in a blank unity. Then this life and this Matter would at least have a meaning; no longer a purgatory or an empty transition to the beyond, but a laboratory where step by step through matter, plants, animals, and then an increasingly conscious human being the Spirit evolves the superman, the god: The soul has not finished what it has to do by merely developing into humanity; it has still to develop that humanity into its higher possibilities. Obviously, the soul that lodges in a Caribbee or an untaught primitive or an Apache of Paris or an American gangster, has not yet exhausted the necessity of human birth, has not developed all its possibilities or the whole meaning of humanity, has not worked out all the sense of Sachchidananda in the universal Man; neither has the soul lodged in a vitalistic European occupied with dynamic production and vital pleasure or in an Asiatic peasant engrossed in the ignorant round of the domestic and economic life. We may reasonably doubt whether even a Plato or a Shankara marks the crown and therefore the end of the outflowering of the spirit in man. We are apt to suppose that these may be the limit, because these and others like them seem to us the highest point which the mind of man can reach, but that may be the illusion of our present possibility. . . . The soul had a prehuman past, it has a superhuman future.

Sri Aurobindo is not a theoretician of evolution; he is a practitioner of evolution. We have jumped ahead in this discussion merely to shed some light upon his groping process in the Alipore jail. He could see that that cosmic and blissful vastitude was not the place where any work could be done, that one had to come back down into the body, humbly, and search there. Yet, we may ask, if "the transformation" is to take place through a power of consciousness and not by some external machinery, what consciousness higher than the cosmic consciousness can there be? Is that not the top of the ladder and therefore the limit of power? The question is relevant if we wish to understand the practical process of the discovery, and eventually experience it ourselves. We might answer with two observations.

First, it is not enough to attain higher powers of consciousness; there must be someone to embody them, otherwise we are like a hunter discovering fabulous creatures through binoculars. Where is the "someone" in the cosmic consciousness? There is no one left. A present-day analogy may explain this better: we can send a rocket into the sun, thus reaching the apex of the world, but not the apex of man, who has not moved an inch in the process. The rocket has gone out of the earth's range. Similarly, the yogi concentrates on one point of his being, gathers all his energies like the cone of a rocket, breaks through his outer carapace, and emerges elsewhere, in another cosmic or nirvanic dimension.

He mounted burning like a cone of fire.168

But who has realized cosmic consciousness? Not the yogi; the yogi goes on drinking, eating, sleeping, being ill at times like all human animals, and dying. It is not he, but a tiny point of his being that is experiencing cosmic consciousness, the very one on which he so earnestly concentrated to break through his carapace. The rest of his being, all the human and earthly nature that he has excluded from the experience, which he has repressed or mortified in order to better concentrate on that single point of escape, does not share in his cosmic consciousness, except through indirect radiation. Sri Aurobindo was therefore making this first important observation, that a linear realization, in one point, is not enough, but that a global realization, in all points one that embraces the individual's entire being is necessary. If you want to transform your nature and your being, and participate in the creation of a new world, the Mother says, that aspiration, that one-pointed and linear push is no longer enough; you must embrace everything and contain everything in your consciousness. Hence the integral yoga or "full yoga," purna yoga.

We sought to get rid of the individuality as a burden preventing us from fluttering at will in the spiritual and cosmic expanses, but without it we can do nothing for the earth; we cannot draw below the treasures from above: There is something more than the mere selfbreaking of an illusory shell of individuality in the Infinite. 169 Thus, with Sri Aurobindo, we are led to this first conclusion: The stifling of the individual may well be the stifling of the god in man.170

A second, even more important observation commands our attention. To return to the rocket analogy: the rocket can break through the earth's atmosphere at any point, taking off either from New York or from the equator, and still reach the sun. There is no need to climb Mt. Everest to set up the launching pad! Similarly, the yogi can realize cosmic consciousness in any point, or at any level, of his being in his mind, in his heart, and even in his body because the cosmic Spirit is everywhere, in every point of the universe. The experience can begin anywhere, at any level, by concentrating on a rock or a sparrow, an idea, a prayer, a feeling, or what people scornfully call an idol. Cosmic consciousness is not the highest point of human consciousness; we do not go above the individual to reach it, but outside. It is hardly necessary to ascend in consciousness, or to become Plotinus, in order to attain the universal Spirit. On the contrary, the less mental one is, the easier it is to experience it; a shepherd beneath the stars or a fisherman of Galilee has a better chance at it than all the philosophers of the world put together. What, then, is the use of all this development of consciousness if folk-like mysticism works better? We must admit that either we are all on the wrong track, or else those mystical escapades do not represent the whole meaning of evolution. On the other hand, if we accept that the proper evolutionary course is that of the peak figures of earthly consciousness Leonardo da Vinci, Beethoven, Alexander the Great, Dante we are still forced to acknowledge that none of these great men has been able to transform life. Thus, the summits of the mind or the heart do not give us, any more than the cosmic summits, the key to the riddle and the power to change the world: another principle of consciousness is required. But it must be another principle without any break in continuity with the others, because if the line is broken or if the individual is lost, we fall back into cosmic or mystical dispersion, thereby losing our link with the earth. To be conscious of Oneness and of the Transcendent is certainly an indispensable basis for any realization (without which we might as well try to build a house without foundations), but it must be done in ways that respect evolutionary continuity; it must be an evolution, not a revolution. In other words, we must get out without getting out. Instead of a rocket that ends up crashing on the sun, we need a rocket that harpoons the Sun of the supreme consciousness and is able to bring it down to all points of our earthly consciousness: The ultimate knowledge is that which perceives and accepts God in the universe as well as beyond the universe and the integral Yoga is that which, having found the Transcendent, can return upon the universe and possess it, retaining the power freely to descend as well as ascend the great stair of existence.171 This double movement of ascent and descent of the individual consciousness is the basic principle of the supramental discovery. But in the process Sri Aurobindo was to touch an unknown spring which would change everything.


167 - The Life Divine, 19:761
168 - Savitri 28:80
169 - Essays on the Gita, 646
170 - The Synthesis of Yoga, 20:185
171 - The Synthesis of Yoga, 20:14


The Ascent of Consciousness



It is not enough to describe Sri Aurobindo's discovery, we must also understand how it is accessible to us. It is very difficult to draw a diagram, however, and say, "Here is the way," because spiritual development is always adapted to the nature of each individual. And for good reason: this is not about learning a foreign language but about oneself, and no two natures are alike: The ideal I put before our yoga does not bind all spiritual life and endeavor. The spiritual life is not a thing that can be formulated in a rigid definition or bound by a fixed mental rule; it is a vast field of evolution, an immense kingdom potentially larger than the other kingdoms below it, with a hundred provinces, a thousand types, stages, forms, paths, variations of the spiritual ideal, degrees of spiritual advancement.172 Therefore we can give only a few pointers, with the hope that each person will find the particular clue that will open his or her own path. One should always keep in mind that the true system of yoga is to capture the thread of one's own consciousness, the "shining thread" of the rishis [Rig Veda, X.53], to seize hold of it, and follow it right to the end.

Since cosmic consciousness and Nirvana do not give us the evolutionary key we are seeking, let us resume our quest, with Sri Aurobindo, where he had left it at Baroda prior to his two great experiences. The first step is the ascent into the Superconscient. As we have said, as silence settles in the seeker's mind, as he quiets his vital and frees himself from his absorption in the physical, the consciousness emerges from the countless activities in which it was indiscernibly commingled, scattered, and it takes on an independent existence. It becomes like a separate being within the being, a compact and increasingly intense Force. And the more it grows, the less it is satisfied with being confined in a body; we notice that it radiates outward, first during sleep, then during meditation, and finally with our eyes wide open. But this outward movement is not just lateral, as it were, toward the universal Mind, universal Vital, and universal Physical; the consciousness also seeks to go upward. This ascending urge may not even be the result of a conscious discipline; it may be a natural and spontaneous need (we should never forget that our efforts in this life are the continuation of many other efforts in many other lives, hence the unequal development of different individuals and the impossibility of setting up fixed rules). We may spontaneously feel something above our head drawing us, like an expanse or a light, or like a magnetic pole that is the origin of all our actions and thoughts, a zone of concentration above our head. The seeker has not silenced his mind to become like a slug; his silence is not dead, but alive; he is tuned in upward because he senses a life there. Silence is not an end but a means, just as learning to read notes is a means to capture music, and there are many kinds of music. Day after day, as his consciousness becomes increasingly concrete, he has hundreds of almost imperceptible experiences springing from this Silence above. He might think about nothing, when suddenly a thought crosses his mind not even a thought, a tiny spark and he knows exactly what he has to do and how he has to do it, down to the smallest detail, as if the pieces of a puzzle were suddenly falling into place, and with a sense of absolute certainty (below, everything is always uncertain, with always at least two solutions to every problem). Or a tiny impulse might strike him: "Go and see so-and-so"; he does, and "coincidentally" this person needs him. Or "Don't do this"; he persists, and has a bad fall. Or for no reason he is impelled toward a certain place, to find the very circumstances that will help him. Or, if some problem has to be solved, he remains immobile, silent, calling above, and the answer comes, clear and irrefutable.

When he speaks or writes, he can feel very tangibly an expanse above his head, from which he draws his thoughts like the luminous thread of a cocoon; he does not move, simply remaining under the current and transcribing, while nothing stirs in his own head. But if he allows his mind to become the least involved, everything vanishes or, rather, becomes distorted, because the mind tries to imitate the intimations from above (the mind is an inveterate ape) and mistakes its own puny fireworks for true illuminations. The more the seeker learns to listen above and to trust these intimations (which are not commanding and loud but scarcely perceptible, like a breath, more akin to feelings than thoughts, and astonishingly rapid), the more numerous, accurate, and irresistible they will become. Gradually, he will realize that all his acts, even the most insignificant, can be unerringly guided by the silent source above, that all his thoughts originate from there, luminous and beyond dispute, and that a kind of spontaneous knowledge dawns within him. He will begin to live a life of constant little miracles. If mankind only caught a glimpse of what infinite enjoyments, what perfect forces, what luminous reaches of spontaneous knowledge, what wide calms of our being lie waiting for us in the tracts which our animal evolution has not yet conquered, they would leave all and never rest till they had gained these treasures. But the way is narrow, the doors hard to force, and fear, distrust and scepticism are there, sentinels of Nature to forbid the turning away of our feet from less ordinary pastures.173

Once the expanse above becomes concrete, alive, like a spread of light overhead, the seeker will feel impelled to enter into a more direct communication with it, to emerge into the open, for he will begin to feel, with painful acuteness, how narrow and false the mind and life below are, like a caricature. He will feel himself colliding everywhere, never at home anywhere, and finally feel that everything words, ideas, feelings is false, grating. That's not it, never it; it's always off the point, always an approximation, always insufficient. Sometimes, in our sleep, as a premonitory sign, we may find ourselves in a great blazing light, so dazzling that we instinctively shield our eyes the sun seems dark in comparison, remarks the Mother. We must then allow this Force within us, the Consciousness-Force that gropes upward, to grow; we must kindle it with our own need for something else, for a truer life, a truer knowledge, a truer relationship with the world and its beings our greatest progress [is] a deepened need.174

We must dismiss all mental constructions that at every moment try to steal the shining thread. We must remain in a constant state of openness and be too great for ideas for it is not ideas that we need, but space. We must not only cut asunder the snare of the mind and the senses, but flee also beyond the snare of the thinker, the snare of the theologian and the church-builder, the meshes of the Word and the bondage of the Idea. All these are within us waiting to wall in the spirit with forms; but we must always go beyond, always renounce the lesser for the greater, the finite for the Infinite; we must be prepared to proceed from illumination to illumination, from experience to experience, from soul-state to soul-state. . . . Nor must we attach ourselves even to the truths we hold most securely, for they are but forms and expressions of the Ineffable who refuses to limit itself to any form or expression; always we must keep ourselves open to the higher Word from above that does not confine itself to its own sense and the light of the Thought that carries in it its own opposites. 175

Then, one day, because of our burning need, after being like a mass of compressed gas, the doors will finally burst open: The consciousness rises, says the Mother, breaking the kind of hard carapace, there, at the top of the head, and one emerges into the light.

Above was an ardent white tranquillity.176

This experience of the breaking through into the Superconscient, the passage from a past that binds us hand and foot to a seeing future, is the starting point of Sri Aurobindo's yoga. Instead of being underneath, forever weighed down, we are above, breathing in the open: The consciousness is no longer in the body or limited by it; it feels itself not only above it but extended in space; the body is below its high station and enveloped in its extended consciousness . . . it becomes only a circumstance in the largeness of the being, an instrumental part of it . . . in the definitive realization of a higher station above there is really no more coming down except with a part of the consciousness which may descend to work in the body or on the lower-levels while the permanently high-stationed being above presides over all that is experienced and done.177


172 - On Yoga II, Tome 2, 739
173 - Thoughts and Aphorisms, 17:79
174 - Savitri, 28:143
175 - The Synthesis of Yoga, 29:315
176 - Savitri, 28:239
177 - On Yoga II, Tome 2, 246


Ecstasy?



Once this breakthrough has been achieved, we must proceed slowly and systematically. Indeed, the first impulse of the consciousness is to soar straight up, as if drawn upward, giving a rocket-like feeling of infinite ascent, which culminates in a sort of luminous nirvana. The blissfulness that accompanies this blossoming on "top" (or what appears to us to be the top), or this dissolving, is so irresistible that it would seem utterly incongruous to wish to descend to intermediate levels and seek anything else; it would seem like a fall; all we want is to remain as still as possible so as not to disturb that magnificent Peace. In fact, we do not even notice any intermediate levels between the exit at the top of the head and the merging "all the way on top"; somewhat dazzled, like a newborn baby opening his eyes for the first time, the seeker cannot recognize anything in that undifferentiated whiteness, or bluish whiteness, and soon loses his footing, i.e., falls into a trance or state of "ecstasy," as they say in the West, or samadhi, as they say in India. When he returns from that state, however, he finds himself exactly as before. In his haste to arrive . . . [the seeker] assumes that there is nothing between the thinking mind and the Highest, and, shutting his eyes in samadhi, tries to rush through all that actually intervenes without even seeing these great and luminous kingdoms of the Spirit. Perhaps he arrives at his object, but only to fall asleep in the Infinite.178

Naturally, upon his return, the seeker will say that this is a marvelous, indescribable, supreme state. And he is right, but, as the Mother remarked, You can say anything you like about it, since you do not remember anything. . . . As you go out of your conscious being and enter a part of yourself that is completely unconscious or, rather, a zone with which you have no conscious connection, you enter into samadhi. . . . You are in an impersonal state, that is, a state in which you are unconscious; and naturally, this is why you don't remember anything, because you have not been conscious of anything. Sri Aurobindo used to say that ecstasy is simply a higher form of unconsciousness. It may turn out that what we call Transcendent, Absolute, or Supreme is not what has often been described as an ecstatic extinction, but only the limit of our present consciousness. It seems absurd to say: "Here is where the world ends and the Transcendent begins," as if there were a gap between the two. (For a pigmy, for instance, the Transcendent might begin at the rudimentary c-a-t=cat of reason and the world might vanish no higher than the intellect.) There really is no gap, except in our consciousness. Perhaps evolving means precisely to explore farther and farther reaches of consciousness within an inexhaustible Transcendent, which is not really "above" or elsewhere outside this world but everywhere here, gradually unveiling itself before our eyes. For, if the prehistorical Transcendent was once located right above the protoplasm, then above the amphibian, then the chimpanzee, and then man, this does not mean it left the world of protoplasm to recede higher and higher, in a sort of constant race to exclude itself; it is we who have left the primitive unconsciousness to live farther ahead in an omnipresent Transcendent.179

Therefore, instead of swooning on top (or what he feels as the top), and assuming his ecstasy to be a sign of progress, the seeker must understand that it is a sign of unconsciousness and strive to uncover the actual life hidden beneath his bedazzlement: Strive to develop your inner individuality, said the Mother, and you will become able to enter those same regions fully conscious, to have the joy of communion with the highest regions without losing consciousness and returning with a zero instead of an experience. 180 And Sri Aurobindo insisted: It is in the waking state that this realization must come and endure in order to be a reality of life. . . . Experience and trance have their utility for opening the being and preparing it, but it is only when the realization is constant in the waking state that it is truly possessed.181 The goal we are seeking is a state of integral mastery, not that of spiritual escapism, and that mastery is possible only in a continuity of consciousness. When we fall into ecstasy, we lose the "someone" who could be the bridge between the powers above and the powerlessness below.

After breaking through the carapace at the top of the head in Alipore jail, Sri Aurobindo began methodically to explore the planes of consciousness above the ordinary mind, just as in Baroda he had explored the planes of consciousness below. He resumed where he had left off the ascent of the great ladder of consciousness, which extends without gap or ecstatic interlude from Matter to that unknown point where he would truly discover something new. For the highest truth, the integral self-knowledge is not to be gained by this selfblinded leap into the Absolute but by a patient transit beyond the mind.182


178 - The Synthesis of Yoga, 20:281
179 - At this stage of our search, it is not possible to say more on the subject. The supramental experience would be needed to acquire the key to this false opposition.
180 - "Ecstasy," some have thought, would be better termed "enstasy." Is one then "in oneself" only when outside oneself? For "ecstasy" ex-stare means literally to be outside one's body or outside the perception of the world. To put it simply, our goal is an "in-oneself" that is not outside ourselves. Only when the supreme experiences can take place within our body and in the midst of everyday life will we be able to speak of "enstasy"; otherwise the term is misleading, though it perfectly illustrates the gulf we have created between life and Spirit.
181 - Letters on Yoga, 23:743
182 - The Synthesis of Yoga, 20:281


Beings and Forces



Constantly and unknowingly, we receive influences and inspirations from these higher, superconscious regions, which express themselves inside us as ideas, ideals, aspirations, or works of art; they secretly mold our life, our future. Similarly, we constantly and unknowingly receive vital and subtle-physical vibrations, which determine our emotional life and relationship with the world every moment of the day. We are enclosed in an individual, personal body only through a stubborn visual delusion; in fact, we are porous throughout and bathe in universal forces, like an anemone in the sea: Man twitters intellectually (=foolishly) about the surface results and attributes them all to his "noble self," ignoring the fact that his noble self is hidden far away from his own vision behind the veil of his dimly sparkling intellect and the reeking fog of his vital feelings, emotions, impulses, sensations and impressions.183 Our sole freedom is to lift ourselves to higher planes through individual evolution. Our only role is to transcribe and materially embody the truths of the plane we belong to. Two important points, which apply to every plane of consciousness, from the highest to the lowest, deserve to be underscored in order for us better to understand the mechanism of the universe. First, these planes do not depend upon us or upon what we think of them any more than the sea depends on the anemone; they exist independently of man. Modern psychology, for which all the levels of being are mixed together in a so-called collective unconscious, like some big magician's hat from which to draw archetypes and neuroses at random, betrays in this respect a serious lack of vision: first, because the forces of these planes are not at all unconscious (except to us), but very conscious, definitely more so than we are; and secondly, because these forces are not "collective," in the sense that they are no more a human product than the sea is the product of the anemone; it is rather the frontal man who is the product of that Immensity behind. The gradations of consciousness are universal states not dependent on the outlook of the subjective personality; rather the outlook of the subjective personality is determined by the grade of consciousness in which it is organized according to its typal nature or its evolutionary stage.184 Naturally, it is only human to reverse the order of things and put ourselves in the center of the world. But this is not a matter of theory, always debatable, but of experience, which everyone can have. If we go out of our body and consciously enter these planes, we realize that they exist outside us, just as the entire world exists outside Manhattan, with forces and beings and even places that have nothing in common with our earthly world; entire civilizations have attested to this, stating it, engraving it, or painting it on their walls or in their temples, civilizations that were perhaps less ingenious than ours, but certainly not less intelligent.

The second important point concerns the conscious forces and beings that occupy these planes. Here we must clearly draw a line between the superstition, or even hoax, arising from our "collective" contribution, and the truth. As usual, the two are closely intermingled.

More than ever, the integral seeker must be armed with that clear austerity Sri Aurobindo mentions so often. He must not confuse super-reason with unreason. In practice, whenever we enter these planes consciously, whether in sleep or meditation or through deliberate exteriorization, we see two sorts of things: impersonal currents of force, which can be more or less luminous, and personal beings. But they are two forms of the same thing: The wall between consciousness and force, impersonality and personality becomes much thinner when one goes behind the veil of matter. If one looks at a working from the side of impersonal force one sees a force or energy at work acting for a purpose or with a result, if one looks from the side of being one sees a being possessing, guiding and using or else representative of and used by a conscious force as its instrument of specialized action and expression. . . . In modern science it has been found that if you look at the movement of energy, it appears on one side to be a wave and act as a wave, on the other as a mass of particles and to act as a mass of particles each acting in its own way. It is somewhat the same principle here.185

Some seekers may therefore never see beings, but only luminous forces; others will see only beings and never any force; it all depends on their inner disposition, on their form of aspiration, on their religious, spiritual, or even cultural background. This is where subjectivity begins, and with it the possibility of confusion and superstition. But subjectivity should not undermine the experience itself; it is merely a sign that the same thing can be viewed and transcribed differently depending on our nature have two artists ever seen the same landscape in the same way? According to the experts in natural and supernatural phenomena, the criterion for truth should be an unchanging consistency of experience, but this is perhaps more likely a criterion of monotony; the very multiplicity of experiences proves that we are dealing with a living truth, not a wooden substance like our mental or physical truths. Furthermore, these conscious highly conscious forces can take any form at will, not to deceive us but to make themselves accessible to the particular consciousness of the person who opens himself to them or invokes them. A Christian saint having a vision of the Virgin and an Indian having a vision of Durga may see the same thing; they may have entered in contact with the same plane of consciousness, the same forces; yet Durga would obviously mean nothing to the Christian. On the other hand, if this same force manifested itself in its pure state, namely, as a luminous, impersonal vibration, it would be accessible neither to the Virgin worshipper nor to the Durga devotee; it would not speak to their hearts. Devotion, too, has its place, for not everyone has the necessary development to feel the intensity of love contained in a simple little golden light without form. Still more remarkably, if a poet, such as Rimbaud or Shelley, came in contact with these same planes of consciousness, he would see something completely different again, yet still the same thing; obviously, neither Durga nor the Virgin is of particular concern to a poet, so he might perceive instead a great vibration, pulsations of light, or colored waves, which in him would translate into an intense poetic emotion. We may recall Rimbaud: "O happiness, O reason, I drew aside the azure of the sky, which is blackness, and I lived as a golden spark of natural light." This emotional translation may indeed come from the same plane of consciousness, or have the same frequency, we might say, as that of the Indian or Christian mystic, even though the poetic transcription of the vibration seems far removed from any religious belief. The mathematician suddenly discerning a new configuration of the world may have touched the same height of consciousness, the same revelatory vibration. For nothing happens "by chance"; everything comes from somewhere, from a particular plane, and each plane has its own wavelength, its own luminous intensity, its own frequency, and one can enter the same plane of consciousness, the same illumination in a thousand different ways.

Those who have exceeded, or think they have exceeded, the stage of religious forms will jump to the conclusion that all personal forms are deceptive, or of a lower order, and that only impersonal forces are true, but this is an error of our human logic, which always tries to reduce everything to a uniform concept. The vision of Durga is no more false and imaginary than Shelley's poem or Einstein's equations, which were confirmed ten years later. Error and superstition begin with the assertion that only the Virgin is true, or only Durga, or only poetry. The reconciling truth would be in seeing that all these forms come from the same divine Light, in different degrees.

But it would be another mistake to think of the so-called impersonal forces as some improved mechanical forces. They have an intensity, a warmth, a luminous joy that very much suggest a person without a face. Anyone who has experienced a flood of golden light, a sapphire-blue blossoming, or a sparkling of white light knows beyond a doubt that with that gold comes a spontaneous and joyful Knowledge; with that blue, a self-sustaining power; with that whiteness, an ineffable Presence. Some forces can sweep upon us like a smile. Then one truly understands that the opposition between personal and impersonal, consciousness and force, is a practical distinction created by human logic, without much relation to reality, and that one need not see any person to be in the presence of the Person.

Practically, the one essential thing is to open oneself to these higher planes; once there, each person will receive according to his or her capacity and needs or particular aspiration. All the quarrels between materialists and religious men, between philosophers and poets and painters and musicians, are the childish games of an incipient humanity in which each one wants to fit everyone else into his own mold. When one reaches the luminous Truth, one sees that It can contain all without conflict, and that everyone is Its child: the mystic receives the joy of his beloved One, the poet receives poetic joy, the mathematician mathematical joy, and the painter receives colored revelations all spiritual joys.

However "clear austerity" remains a powerful protection, for unfortunately not everyone has the capacity to rise to the high regions where the forces are pure; it is far easier to open oneself at the vital level, which is the world of the great Force of Life and desires and passions (well known to mediums and occultists), where the lower forces can readily take on divine appearances with dazzling colors, or frightening forms. If the seeker is pure, he will see through the hoax either way, and his little psychic light will dissolve all the threats and all the gaudy mirages of the vital melodrama. But how can one ever be sure of one's own purity? Therefore, not to pursue personal forms but only a higher and higher truth, and letting It manifest under any form It chooses, will help us avoid error and superstition.

We can now try to describe these superconscious levels, as they appear when one does not succumb to ecstatic unconsciousness, and as Sri Aurobindo experienced them. Certainly, what is closest to the universal truth has nothing to do with forms, which are always limited and related to a given tradition or age (though these forms have their place and their truth), but with luminous vibrations. By "vibrations," we do not mean any lifeless waves of quantum physics, but movements of light, inexpressibly filled with joy, love, knowledge, beauty, and all the qualities manifested by the best of human consciousness, whether they be religious or not:

A light not born of sun or moon or fire,
A light that dwelt within and saw within
Shedding an intimate visibility. . . .186

183 - Correspondence, Vol. II, 119
184 - Letters on Yoga, 22:235
185 - On Yoga II, Tome 2, 197
186 - Savitri, 29:525

The Planes of the Mind



Before reaching the supramental plane, which is the beginning of the higher hemisphere of existence, the seeker will go through several mental layers or worlds, which Sri Aurobindo has respectively called, in ascending order, the higher mind, the illumined mind, the intuitive mind, and the overmind. We may of course use a different terminology, but these four zones correspond to very specific experiences, verifiable by anyone who has the capacity to consciously undertake the ascent.

Theoretically, these four zones of consciousness belong to the Superconscient. We say theoretically, because the superconscious threshold varies with individuals: for some, the higher mind or even the illumined mind is not superconscious, but a normal part of their waking consciousness, while for others, the mere reasoning mind is still a remote possibility of inner development; in other words, the line dividing the superconscient from the rest tends to recede upward as our evolution progresses. If the subconscient is our evolutionary past, the Superconscient is our evolutionary future, gradually becoming our normal waking consciousness.

We will not attempt here to describe what these higher planes of consciousness are in themselves, independent of man. Each of them is a whole world of existence, vaster and more active than the earth, and our mental language is inadequate to describe them; we would need a language of the visionary or the poet "another language," as Rimbaud said. This is what Sri Aurobindo has created in Savitri, his poetic epic, to which we refer the reader.

A million lotuses swaying on one stem.
World after coloured and ecstatic world
Climbs towards some far unseen epiphany.187

But we can say what these planes bring to man, how they change our vision of the world when we ascend to them.

The ordinary mind, which we all know, sees things one at a time, in succession, linearly. It cannot take leaps, for that would create holes in its logic and cause it to lose its bearings: things would become "incoherent," irrational, or vague. It cannot see more than one thing at a time, or a contradiction would arise; if it accepts a particular truth or fact within its field of consciousness, it must automatically reject all that is different from that particular truth or fact; it works like a camera shutter, letting in one and only one image at a time. Anything that is not part of its momentary vision belongs to the limbo of error, falsehood, or darkness. All things, therefore, are part of an inexorable system of opposites: white versus black, truth versus falsehood, God versus Satan, and this ordinary mind moves along like a donkey on a road, glancing at one tuft of grass after another. In short, the ordinary mind keeps punching out little pieces of time and space. The more one goes down the ladder of consciousness, the smaller the pieces. We can suppose that to a beetle, whatever crosses its path comes from the future to its right, cuts the line of its present and disappears into the past to its left; a man standing astride the beetle, who can be on the right and on the left at the same time, is simply miraculous and untenable, unless he has one leg in truth and the other in falsehood, which is not possible, therefore man does not exist he is impossible in beetle terms. For us, the shutter has grown a little wider, future and past are no longer to the right and left in space, but yesterday and tomorrow in time we have gained a little time since the beetle. But there is another, supramental consciousness that can widen the shutter even more, gain even more time, and stand astride yesterday and tomorrow; it sees simultaneously present, past and future, black and white, truth and so-called falsehood, good and so-called evil, yes and no for all opposites are the result of dividing time into little pieces.

We speak of "error" because we do not yet see the good it is preparing, or of which it is the visible half; we speak of "falsehood" because we have not yet had enough time to see the lotus blossom out of the mud; we speak of "black," but our daylight is black to one who sees the Light! Our error was the necessary companion of good; no was the inseparable other half of yes; white and black and all the other colors of the rainbow were the various transcriptions of a unique light gradually unveiling itself. There are no opposites, only complements.

The whole story of the ascent of consciousness is the story of a widening of the aperture, the passage from a linear and contradictory consciousness to a global one.

But Sri Aurobindo does say "global," does say higher hemi-sphere of consciousness when speaking of the Supramental, because the higher truth does not exclude the earth; it is not whole without its lower half. What is above does not annul what is below, but fulfills it; timelessness is not the opposite of time, any more than two embracing arms are the opposite of the person embraced. The secret, precisely, is to find timelessness amidst time, the infinite in the finite, and the encompassing wholeness of things in the lowliest fraction. Otherwise no one is embraced and no one embraces anything.

This ascent of consciousness is not only the conquest of time, but also the conquest of joy, love, and vastness of being. The lower evolutionary levels do not cut only time and space into pieces; they cut up everything. A progressive law of fragmentation188 presides over the descent of consciousness from the Spirit down to the atom fragmentation of joy, fragmentation of love and power, and naturally fragmentation of knowledge and vision. Everything is ultimately broken down into a cloud of minuscule tropisms, a hazy dust of somnambulist consciousness,189 which is already a quest for the Light, or perhaps a memory of the Joy. The general sign of this descent is an always diminishing power of intensity, intensity of being, intensity of consciousness, intensity of force, intensity of the delight in things and the delight of existence. So too as we ascend towards the supreme level these intensities increase.190


187 - ibid., 28:279
188 - The Human Cycle, 209
189 - The Hour of God, 17:15
190 - Letters, 3rd Series, 124


a) The Ordinary Mind



The quality of light or the quality of vibrations is essentially what distinguishes one plane of consciousness from another. If we start at our own evolutionary level and consider consciousness in its aspect of light, from which all the other levels derive, the ordinary mind appears to the seeing eye as a grayish mass with many darker tiny spots or fairly obscure vibratory nodules, like a cloud of flies swarming about people's heads and representing their thousand and one thoughts; they come and go and swirl about endlessly, migrating from one person to the next. Occasionally, a little burst of light, a little joy, a little flame of love dancing amid this grayness, may descend from above. But this ground of neutrality, as Sri Aurobindo calls it, is so thick, so pervasive, that it swallows up and discolors everything, pulling down everything into its obscure gravitation; we cannot bear joy, or pain, for too long, cannot bear too much light; everything is small, spasmodic,
soon quenched. And everything is subject to a thousand conditions.

b) The Higher Mind



This new degree is frequently found in philosophers and thinkers. It is less opaque, freer. The background is no longer so gray, or there is a bluish tinge to it, and the little descending bursts of light are less rapidly swallowed up. They are also more intense, more abundant and frequent. Joy tends to last longer; love tends to be more encompassing and less subject to the countless conditions of the lower levels: one begins to know what joy and love are in themselves, without cause.

But the light is still cold, somewhat hard. It is still a heavy mental substance catching the light from above and mixing it with its own substance, covering it with a thinking layer without even being aware of it, and therefore understanding the light received only after a long process of logicalization, dilution, and fragmentation into pages, words or ideas. Further, the pages and paragraphs of the higher mind derive from a single point of light, or a small number of points (this is its own preset conclusion; a small drop of intuition hurriedly digested), and so it goes to a great deal of trouble to eliminate from its development anything that might contradict its conclusion. Indeed, it can open itself to higher planes and receive flashes, but this is not its normal altitude; its mental substance is designed to break down the light. It cannot understand unless it first explains.

c) The Illumined Mind



The illumined mind has a different nature. As the higher mind gradually accepts silence, it gains access to this region, meaning that its substance gradually clarifies, and what came one drop at a time now comes flowing in: The ground is no longer a general neutrality but pure spiritual ease and happiness upon which the special tones of the aesthetic consciousness come out or from which they arise. This is the first fundamental change.191 The consciousness is filled with a flood of light, often golden, infused with colors that vary with the inner state; this is a luminous irruption. And simultaneously, a state of enthusiasm, in the Greek sense of the word, a sudden awakening as if the whole being were on the alert, immersed in a very fast rhythm and in a brand-new world, with new values; new perspectives, and unexpected associations. The smoke screen of the world is lifted.

Everything is interconnected within a great, joyous vibration. Life becomes vaster, truer, more alive; little truths twinkle everywhere, wordlessly, as if each thing held a secret, a special sense, a special life. One bathes in an indescribable state of truth, without understanding anything about it it just is. And it is marvelously. It is light, alive, loving.

This luminous flood will translate differently in different people (one is always too quick to give it a form instead of letting it quietly permeate the being and do its work of clarification). For some, there will be a sudden poetic blossoming, others will see new architectural forms, others will pursue new scientific discoveries, while still others will worship their God. Generally, the access to this new consciousness is accompanied by a spontaneous flowering of creative energies, particularly in the poetic field. It is interesting to note the number of poets of all languages Chinese, Indian, English, etc. among Sri Aurobindo's disciples, as if poetry and art were the first practical result of his yoga: I have seen both in myself and others a sudden flowering of capacities in every kind of activity come by the opening of consciousness, so that one who laboured long without the least success to express himself in rhythm becomes a master of poetic language and cadences in a day. It is a question of the right silence in the mind and the right openness to the Word that is trying to express itself for the Word is there ready formed in those inner planes where all artistic forms take birth, but it is the transmitting mind that must change and become a perfect channel and not an obstacle.192

Poetry is the most convenient means of conveying what these higher planes of consciousness are. In a poem's rhythm one can easily perceive vibrations. We will therefore use poetry to convey a sense of what these higher planes are, even though the Superconscient is not the sole privilege of poets. In his vast correspondence on poetry and in his Future Poetry, Sri Aurobindo has given numerous instances of poetry issuing from the illumined mind. It is naturally Shakespeare who would give us the most abundant examples, provided we let go of the external meaning and listen to what vibrates behind the words; for poetry and all the arts are ultimately a means of capturing a tiny ineffable note, a mere nothing, a "nothing" that still constitutes life's very essence: . . . that his virtues

Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued. . .
And, pity, like a naked new-born babe
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubin, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye
That tears shall drown the wind.

A poem is not "illumined" because of its meaning; it is illumined because it embodies the particular note of that plane. We could find the same note in a painting by Rembrandt, a musical composition by Csar Franck, or simply in a friend's words; it is the touch of truth behind, the little vibration that goes straight to our heart, for which the poem, the canvas, or the sonata are only more or less adequate transcriptions. The higher one rises, the purer, more luminous, vast, and powerful is the vibration. When Wordsworth says:

And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face. . . ,

the vibration is almost palpable, so strong is its presence. Yet this is not an illumined vibration; it does not come from above the head but from the heart. Moreover, it has nothing to do with the meaning of the lines; the words are merely the garments of the vibration. Whereas this line by Francis Thompson issues straight from the illumined mind:

The abashless inquisition of each star.

What essentially distinguishes the works that come from this plane is what Sri Aurobindo calls a luminous sweep, a sudden flooding of light. The vibration is unlike any other, always eliciting a kind of shock, and then something keeps vibrating long afterward, like a tuning fork. Nevertheless, it seldom remains pure through the entire work, for the movement of the work follows that of consciousness, with its highs and lows, unless it is created even through a special discipline. The last three lines in the Shakespearean passage quoted above fall away from the illumined overhead inspiration; they contain some vital and also some ordinary mental consciousness.

Along with its beauty, we are also discovering the limits of the illumined mind: illumined poetry produces streams of images and revelatory words (because vision, and even hearing, often open at this stage), almost an avalanche of luxuriant, sometimes incoherent images, as if the consciousness were hard put to contain the flood of light and unaccustomed intensity; it is overwhelmed. Enthusiasm easily changes into exhilaration, and if the rest of the being has not been sufficiently prepared and purified, any of the lower parts can seize hold of the descending light and force and use them for their own ends; this is a frequent snare. Whenever the lower parts of the being, especially the vital, seize upon the luminous flood, they harden it, dramatize it, distort it. There is still power, but compelling and hard while the essence of the illumined mind is joy. Here we could cite the names of many poets and creative geniuses. 193 Furthermore, the substance of the illumined mind is not truly transparent, but only translucent; its light is diffused, somewhat as if it could feel the truth everywhere without concretely touching it; hence the frequent instances of incoherence and vagueness. It is only the beginning of a new birth. Before going higher, more purification is necessary, and above all more peace, more natural equilibrium, and more silence. The higher we ascend in consciousness, the sturdier the equilibrium required.

191 - Letters, 3rd Series, 124
192 - Sri Aurobindo Came to Me, 127
193 - It may be worthwhile to stress the great differences between an individual who receives occasional inspirations or illuminations, often of an unreliable nature, and one who has systematically developed his consciousness, so that he can settle at will on any level of consciousness, remain there as long as he wishes, and receive without distortion the corresponding inspirations and illuminations. This is the task of the integral yoga.

d) The Intuitive Mind



The intuitive mind differs from the illumined mind by its clear transparency. It is quicksilver, skipping barefoot from rock to rock.
Unlike the higher mind, it is not hampered by the mental orthopedic braces that shackle us to the ground, as if knowledge forever depended upon the ponderous volume of our reflections. Knowledge is a flash bursting forth from the silence. It is right there, not really higher or deeper, but just before our eyes, waiting for us to become a little clear.

It is not so much a matter of raising ourselves as of clearing our obstructions. In spring, the rice fields of India stretch before the eye, quiet and green, laden with sweet fragrance, beneath a heavy sky; suddenly, with a single cry, thousands of parrots take flight. Yet we had seen nothing. It is so sudden, lightning-fast like the incredible rapidity with which the consciousness clears up. One mere detail, one sound, one drop of light, and a whole magnificent, overflowing world appears thousands of imperceptible birds in the flash of a wing.

Intuition reproduces, on our scale, the original mystery of a great Gaze: a mighty glance that has seen all, known all, and that delights at seeing bit by bit, slowly, successively, temporally, from a myriad points of view, what It had once wholly embraced in a fraction of Eternity.

An eternal instant is the cause of the years.194

With intuition comes a very special joy, different, it seems, from the illumined joy. No longer is there the sense of a flow coming from outside, but a kind of recognition, as if there were always two of us, a brother of light living in the light and a brother of shadow, ourself, living below, groping awkwardly in the darkness, repeating all the gestures and movements of the brother of light, imitating his knowledge and his great adventure, but in a shabby, stunted, clumsy way. Then, suddenly, there is a coincidence, and we become one. We are one in a point of light. For once, there ceases to be any difference, and this is joy. When we are one in all points, then that will be the life divine.

This point of coincidence brings knowledge, which may translate itself in one form or another depending upon our current preoccupation, but it is always, essentially, a movement of identity, a meeting: we know because we recognize. Sri Aurobindo used to say that intuition is a memory of the Truth.195 As the intuitive flash occurs, one clearly sees that knowledge is not discovering something unknown one only discovers oneself! there is nothing else to discover but a gradual recognition, in time, of that second of Light which we have all seen. Who has not seen, if only once? Who does not have that Memory in his life? Whatever our beliefs or unbeliefs, our capacities or incapacities, our lower or higher altitudes, there is always a moment in life that is our moment. Some lives last but a second, and all the rest is oblivion.

The language of intuition is concentrated into a concise phrasing, without superfluous words, in contrast to the opulent language of the illumined mind (which, through its very richness, nevertheless conveys a luminous rhythm and a truth, perhaps less precisely connoted, but warmer). When Plotinus packed the entire cycle of human effort into one phrase "A flight of the Alone to the Alone" he used a highly intuitive language, as do the Upanishads. But this quality also signals the limits of intuition: no matter how replete with meaning our flashes and phrases, they cannot embrace the whole truth; a fuller, more encompassing warmth would be needed, like that of the illumined mind but with a higher transparency. For the Intuition . . . sees things by flashes, point by point, not as a whole. The area unveiled by the flash is striking and irrefutable, but it is only one space of truth.196 Moreover, the mind hastens to seize upon the intuition and, as Sri Aurobindo remarked, it makes at once too little and too much of it.197 Too much, because it unduly generalizes the intuitive message and would extend its discovery to all space; too little, because instead of letting the flash quietly perform its work of illumination and clarification of our substance, it immediately seizes it, coats it with a thinking layer (or a pictorial, poetic, mathematical, or religious one), and no longer understands its flash except through the intellectual, artistic, or religious form it has put over it. It is terribly difficult for the mind to comprehend that a revelation can be allpowerful, even overwhelming, without our understanding anything about it, and that it is especially powerful as long as it is not brought down several degrees, diluted, and fragmented in order, supposedly, to be "understood." If we could remain quiet while the intuitive flash occurs, as if suspended in its own light, without pouncing on it to cut it into intellectual pieces, we would notice, after a while, that our entire being has shifted to a different altitude, and that we possess a new kind of vision instead of a lifeless little phrase. The very act of explaining causes most of the transformative power to evaporate.

If instead of rushing to his pen or brush or into a torrent of words to relieve himself of the excess of light received, the seeker strives to preserve his silence and transparency, if he remains patient, he will see the flashes gradually multiply, draw nearer, as it were, and observe another consciousness slowly dawn within him at once the fulfillment and the source of both the illumined mind and the intuitive mind, and of all human mental forms. This is the overmind.

194 - Savitri, 28:315
195 - The Life Divine, 1127
196 - Letters on Yoga, 22:264
197 - The Synthesis of Yoga, 21:772

e) The Overmind



The overmind is the rarely attained summit of human consciousness.

It is a cosmic consciousness, but with no loss of the individual. Instead of rejecting everything to soar to celestial heights, the seeker has patiently ascended each step of his being, so that the bottom remains linked to the top without any break. The overmind is the world of the gods, the source of inspiration of the great founders of religions. This is where all the religions we know were born; they all derive from an overmental experience in one of its countless aspects. For a religion or revelation, a spiritual experience, belongs to a certain plane; it does not come from God's thunders or from nowhere; those who incarnate the particular revelation have not conceived it from nothing: the overmind is their source. It is also the source of the higher artistic creations. But we must remember that, although it is the summit, it is still a mental plane.

When consciousness rises to that plane, it no longer sees "point by point," but calmly in great masses.198 There is no longer the diffused light of the illumined mind or the isolated flashes of the intuitive mind, but, to quote the wonderful Vedic phrase, "an ocean of stable lightnings." The consciousness is no longer limited to the brief present moment or the narrow range of its visual field; it is unsealed, seeing in a single glance large extensions of space and time.199 The essential difference with other planes lies in the evenness, the almost complete uniformity of the light. In a particularly receptive illumined mind one would see, for example, a bluish background with sudden jets of light, intuitive flashes, or moving luminous eruptions, sometimes even great overmental downpours, but it would be a fluctuating play of light, nothing stable. This is the usual condition of the greatest poets we know; they attain a certain level of rhythm, a particular poetic luminousness, and from time to time they touch upon higher regions and return with those rare dazzling lines (or musical phrases) that are repeated generation after generation like an open sesame. The illumined mind is generally the base (an already very high base), and the overmind a divine kingdom one gains access to in moments of grace.

But for a full and permanent overmental consciousness, such as was realized by the Vedic rishis, for instance, there are no more fluctuations. The consciousness is a mass of stable light. There results an unbroken universal vision; one knows universal joy, universal beauty, universal love; for all the contradictions of the lower planes came from a deficiency of light, or narrowness of light, which lit up only a limited field; while in this even light the contradictions, which are like small shadowy intervals between two flashes or dark frontiers at the end of our light, melt into a unified visual mass. And since there is light everywhere, there are also, necessarily, joy and harmony and beauty everywhere, because opposites are no longer felt as negations or shadowy gaps between two sparks of consciousness but as elements of varying intensity within a continuous cosmic Harmony. Not that the overmental consciousness fails to see what we call ugliness and evil and suffering, but everything is connected within a comprehensive universal play in which each thing has its place and purpose. This is a unifying consciousness, not a dividing one. The degree of unity gives an exact measure of the overmental perfection. Moreover, with the vision of this unity, which is necessarily divine (the Divine is no longer something hypothetical or theoretical, but seen and touched, something that we have become naturally, just as our consciousness has become materially luminous), the overmental being perceives the same light everywhere, in all things and in all beings, just as he perceives it within his own self. There are no more separate gaps, no more lapses of strangeness; everything is bathed continuously in a single substance. The seeker feels universal love, universal understanding, universal compassion for all those other "selves" who are likewise moving toward their own divinity or, rather, gradually becoming the light that they are.

Therefore, we can attain the overmental consciousness in many different ways: through religious passion, through poetic, intellectual, artistic, or heroic zeal, or through anything that helps man to exceed himself. Sri Aurobindo assigned a special place to art, which he considered one of the major means of spiritual progress.

Unfortunately, artists and creators too often have a considerable ego standing in the way, which is their main difficulty. The religious man, who has worked to dissolve his ego, finds it easier, but he rarely attains universality through his own individual efforts, leaping instead beyond the individual without bothering to develop all the intermediate rungs of the personal consciousness, and when he reaches the "top" he no longer has a ladder to come down, or he does not want to come down, or there is no individual self left to express what he sees, or else his old individual self tries its best to express his new consciousness, provided he feels the need to express anything at all. The Vedic rishis, who have given us perhaps the only instance of a systematic and continuous spiritual progression from plane to plane, may be among the greatest poets the earth has ever known, as Sri Aurobindo has shown in his Secret of the Veda. The Sanskrit word kavi had the double meaning of "seer of the Truth" and "poet." One was a poet because one was a seer. This is an obvious and quite forgotten reality. It may be worthwhile, then, to say a few words about art as a means of ascent of the consciousness, and, in particular, about poetry at the overmental level.

198 - On Yoga II, Tome 2, 263
199 - On Yoga II, Tome 2, 263

Mantric Poetry



The planes of consciousness are characterized not only by different intensities of luminous vibrations, but by different sound-vibrations or rhythms one can hear when one has that "ear of ears" the Veda speaks of. Sounds or images, lights or forces or beings are various aspects of the same Existence manifesting differently and in varying intensities according to the plane. The farther one descends the ladder of consciousness, the more fragmented become the sound-vibrations, as well as the light, the beings, and the forces. On the vital plane, for example, one can hear the discordant and jarring vibrations of life, like certain types of music issuing from this plane or certain types of vital painting or poetry, which all express that broken and highly colored rhythm. The higher one rises, the more harmonious, unified and streamlined the vibrations become, such as certain great notes of Beethoven's string quartets, which seem to draw us upward, breathlessly, to radiant heights of pure light. The force of the music is no longer a matter of volume or multi-hued outbursts, but of a higher inner tension. The higher frequency of vibration turns the multi-hued rainbow to pure white, to a note so high that it seems motionless, as if captured in eternity, one single sound-light-force which is perhaps akin to the sacred Indian syllable OM [the] Word concealed in the upper fire.35 "In the beginning was the Word," the Christian Scriptures also say.

There exists in India a secret knowledge based upon sounds and the differences of vibratory modes found on different planes of consciousness. If we pronounce the sound OM, for example, we clearly feel its vibrations enveloping the head centers, while the sound RAM affects the navel center. And since each of our centers of consciousness is in direct contact with a plane, we can, by the repetition of certain sounds (japa), come into contact with the corresponding plane of consciousness.200 This is the basis of an entire spiritual discipline, called "tantric" because it originates from sacred texts known as Tantra. The basic or essential sounds that have the power to establish the contact are called mantras. The mantras, usually secret and given to the disciple by his Guru,201 are of all kinds (there are many levels within each plane of consciousness), and may serve the most contradictory purposes. By combining certain sounds, one can at the lower levels of consciousness generally at the vital level come in contact with the corresponding forces and acquire many strange powers: some mantras can cause death (in five minutes, with violent vomiting), some mantras can strike with precision a particular part or organ of the body, some mantras can cure, some mantras can start a fire, protect, or cast spells. This type of magic, or chemistry of vibrations, derives simply from a conscious handling of the lower vibrations. But there is a higher magic, which also derives from handling vibrations, on higher planes of consciousness. This is poetry, music, the spiritual mantras of the Upanishads and the Veda, the mantras given by a Guru to his disciple to help him come consciously into direct contact with a special plane of consciousness, a force or a divine being. In this case, the sound holds in itself the power of experience and realization it is a sound that makes one see.

Similarly, poetry and music, which are but unconscious processes of handling these secret vibrations, can be a powerful means of opening up the consciousness. If we could compose conscious poetry or music through the conscious manipulation of higher vibrations, we would create masterpieces endowed with initiatory powers. Instead of a poetry that is a fantasy of the intellect and a nautch-girl of the mind,202 as Sri Aurobindo put it, we would create a mantric music or poetry to bring the gods into our life. 203 For true poetry is action; it opens little inlets in the consciousness we are so walled in, so barricaded! through which the Real can enter. It is a mantra of the Real,204 an initiation. This is what the Vedic rishis and the seers of the Upanishads did with their mantras, which have the power of communicating illumination to one who is ready. 205 This is what Sri Aurobindo has explained in his Future Poetry and what he has accomplished himself in Savitri.

Mantras, great poetry, great music, or the sacred Word, all come from the overmind plane. It is the source of all creative or spiritual activity (the two cannot be separated: the categorical divisions of the intellect vanish in this clear space where everything is sacred, even the profane). We might now attempt to describe the particular vibration or rhythm of the overmind. First, as anyone knows who has the capacity to enter more or less consciously in contact with the higher planes a poet, a writer, or an artist it is no longer ideas one perceives and tries to translate when one goes beyond a certain level of consciousness: one hears. Vibrations, or waves, or rhythms, literally impose themselves and take possession of the seeker, and subsequently garb themselves with words and ideas, or music, or colors, during the descent. But the word or idea, the music or color is merely a result, a byproduct: it only gives a body to that first, highly compelling vibration. If the poet, the true one, next corrects and recorrects his draft, it is not to improve the form, as it were, or to find a more adequate expression, but to capture the vibrating life behind more accurately; if the true vibration is absent, all the magic disintegrates, as a Vedic priest mispronouncing the mantra of the sacrifice. When the consciousness is transparent, the sound can be heard distinctly, and it is a seeing sound, as it were, a sound-image or a sound-idea, which inseparably links hearing to vision and thought within the same luminous essence. All is there, self-contained, within a single vibration. On all the intermediate planes higher mind, illumined or intuitive mind the vibrations are generally broken up as flashes, pulsations, or eruptions, while in the overmind they are great notes.

They have neither beginning nor end, and they seem to be born out of the Infinite and disappear into the Infinite 206 ; they do not "begin" anywhere, but rather flow into the consciousness with a kind of halo of eternity, which was vibrating beforehand and continues to vibrate long afterward, like the echo of another voyage behind this one:

Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.

This line by Virgil, which Sri Aurobindo has cited as foremost among inspirations of an overmental origin, owes its overmental quality not to the meaning of the words but to the rhythm that precedes the words and follows them, as if they were inscribed on a backdrop of eternity or, rather, by Eternity itself. So, too, this line by Leopardi does not owe its greatness to the meaning but to that something so subtly more than the meaning, which quivers behind it:

Insano indegno mistero delle cose.

Or this line by Wordsworth:

Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone.

And Sri Aurobindo also cited Rimbaud:

Million d'oiseaux d'or, future Vigueur!

Poetry is restored to its true role, which is not to please but to make the world more real by infusing more Reality into it.

If we are religious-minded, perhaps we will see the gods who inhabit this world. Beings, forces, sounds, lights, and rhythms are just so many true forms of the same indefinable, but not unknowable, Essence we call "God"; we have spoken of God, and made temples, laws or poems to try to capture the one little pulsation filling us with sunshine, but it is free as the wind on foam-flecked shores. We may also enter the world of music, which in fact is not different from the others but a special extension of this same, great inexpressible Vibration. If once, only once, even for a few moments in a lifetime, we can hear that Music, that Joy singing above, we will know what Beethoven and Bach heard; we will know what God is because we will have heard God. We will probably not say anything grandiose; we will just know that That exists, whereupon all the suffering in the world will seem redeemed.

At the extreme summit of the overmind, there only remain great waves of multi-hued light, says the Mother, the play of spiritual forces, which later translate sometimes much later into new ideas, social changes, or earthly events, after crossing one by one all the layers of consciousness and suffering a considerable distortion and loss of light in the process. There are some rare and silent sages on this earth who can wield and combine these forces and draw them down onto the earth, the way others combine sounds to write a poem. Perhaps they are the true poets. Their existence is a living mantra precipitating the Real upon earth. This concludes the description of the ascent Sri Aurobindo underwent alone in his cell at Alipore. We have only presented a few human reflections of these higher regions; we have said nothing about their essence, nothing about these worlds as they exist in their glory, independently of our pale translations: one must hear and see that for oneself!

Calm heavens of imperishable Light,
Illumined continents of violet peace,
Oceans and rivers of the mirth of God
And griefless countries under purple suns.207

On May 5, 1909, after one year of confinement, Sri Aurobindo was acquitted. He owed his life to two unexpected events. One of the prisoners had betrayed him, denouncing him as the leader of the underground movement. His testimony in court would have meant the death penalty for Sri Aurobindo, but mysteriously he was shot in his cell. Then came the day of the trial, and as everyone sat expecting a verdict of capital punishment, Sri Aurobindo's lawyer was seized by a sudden illumination, which spread through the entire courtroom and profoundly shook the jury: "Long after he is dead and gone, his words will be echoed and re-echoed, not only in India, but across distant seas and lands. Therefore I say that a man in his position is standing not only before the bar of this court, but before the bar of the High Court of History." Sri Aurobindo was thirty-seven. His brother Barin, beside him in the cage, was sentenced to the gallows.208

Sri Aurobindo continued to hear the voice: Remember never to fear, never to hesitate. Remember that it is I who am doing this, not you nor any other. Therefore whatever clouds may come, whatever dangers and sufferings, whatever difficulties, whatever impossibilities, there is nothing impossible, nothing difficult.

It is I who am doing this.209


200 - Looking at the diagram of the centers of consciousness, we notice that each center contains a Sanskrit letter: Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam, Ham, Om, in ascending order. These essential sounds represent the particular vibrations that command the forces of each plane. (See A. Avalon, The Serpent Power.)
201 - One may read mantras in a book and repeat them endlessly to no avail. They will have no power or "active force" unless given by a Master or Guru.
202 - The Human Cycle, 15:5
203 - The Future Poetry, 9:233
204 - The Future Poetry, 9:9
205 - Unfortunately, these texts have reached us in translation, such that all the magic of the original sound has vanished. The remarkable thing, however, is that if one hears the original Sanskrit text chanted by someone who has knowledge, one can receive an illumination without understanding a word of what has been chanted.
206 - Letters, 3rd Series, 97
207 - Savitri, 28:120
208 - His penalty was later commuted to life deportation to the Andaman Islands.
209 - Speeches, 2:6





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