It was unbearable for me to stay in the demanding environment of Nasik, and I thought of visiting Pondicherry and meeting the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The students of this ashram were very devoted and firm in the conviction that the way of life they led was supreme. The day I arrived at Pondicherry there was a concert given by a famous musician who was a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. The Mother was kind enough to arrange for me to stay in one of the quarters and to hear the devotional songs sung by that great devotee. My stay in Pondicherry for twenty-one days gave me enough time to strengthen the aspirations which I had received at the ashram of Maharshi Raman in Arunachala. During those days of my inner turmoil I was very restless; on one side I was being pulled by renunciation, and on the other side by the call of duty which had been assigned to me. While at Pondicherry I met Sri Aurobindo several times and he was kind enough to talk to me. His personality was very overpowering and inspiring. I started respecting his modern and intellectual approach of Integral Yoga. I want to give you the gist of what I understood this philosophy to be.
Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is described as integral non-dualism. This is an approach which seeks to understand reality in its fundamental oneness. The differences which we observe are looked upon as developments taking place within the framework of the all-inclusive unity of the Absolute. Integral non-dualism erases the distinctions of ethics, religion, logic, and metaphysics. Sri Aurobindo’s conviction is that absolute reality in its essence is non-dual, non-conceptual, and logically indefinable. It is only accessible to direct experience through the penetrative insight of pure spiritual intuition. According to non-dualism (advaita), reality is beyond materialism, causation, structure, and number. This same conviction is expressed in the philosophy of Nirguna Brahman in Vedanta, in the concept of Shunyata in Buddhist philosophy, in the concept of Tao in Chinese philosophy, and in the philosophy of Tattvatita in tantra.
The philosophy of tantra consistently maintains that one can advance spiritually by awakening the latent primal force called the kundalini. When this spiritual potential is systematically channeled along higher primal force called the kundalini. When this spiritual potential is systematically channeled along higher levels, living becomes effortless, spontaneous, and attuned to the ultimate goal of existence. Vaishnavism recommends the method of love and devotion through wholehearted self-surrender to God. Christian mysticism and Sufism have a close resemblance to Vaishnavism in this respect: “Let Thy will, not mine, be done” is their secret of spiritual growth. Vedanta, by contrast, lays stress upon the method of contemplation and self-emotional attachments to the not-self. As soon as false identifications with the not-self are removed, the indwelling light of truth is revealed.
According to Aurobindo’s integral philosophy, both the lower nature and the higher nature of man and the universe spring from the same ultimate reality. The lower nature is the physical force in the world and the source of instinctual drives in the unconscious mind. Man’s higher nature is composed of pure consciousness and spiritual aspirations. It evolves out of the matrix of the lower nature through the awareness of the ultimate creative force, called Shakti. Aurobindo calls this force Divine Mother. Man has to faithfully be aware of this force in order to attain the realization of the Absolute. This awareness implies a tranquil integration of the material and the spiritual. According to Aurobindo, “The supra-physical can only be really mastered in its fullness when we keep our feet firmly on the physical.”
This awareness is developed through two methods. The first is the integration of meditation with action. Through meditation one tears the veil of ignorance; he thus realizes his true self, which is the very self of all. Through selfless and loving actions one relates creatively with others. The second method of awareness of the Divine lies in the knowledge of the ascending and descending forces of consciousness. These powerful movements gradually expand the spiritual outlook and help one to rise to higher levels of consciousness. The descending movement brings down the light and power of higher consciousness into all strata of our material existence. This consists of transforming the physical into effective channels of expression for universal love and all-unifying truth.
Integral non-dualism sees evolution as the progressive self-manifestation of the universal spirit in material conditions. The whole universe is an expression, or play, of the Divine. Man’s highest destiny is to be fully aware of the universal spirit and thus advance the cause of evolution. Therefore the essence of Integral Yoga lies in the active and effective awareness of the individual with the superconscious Divine.
Sri Aurobindo synthesizes the ancient philosophy of advaita in the belief that it is not necessary for modern man to realize the goal of non-dualistic asceticism through renunciation. Meditation in action with non-attachment also prepares the sadhaka for awakening the primal force: kundalini. By the realization of the union of Shakti and Shiva humanity can be elevated to a higher awareness.
I was fully convinced that Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy would have wide recognition by the modern minds of India and especially of the West. But I was accustomed to quiet and solitude and could not adjust to the numerous activities of the ashram like dramas, concerts, and tennis. I returned to Nasik and determined to leave for the Himalayas.
- Sri Rama
(“Living With the Himalayan Masters”, pp. 83-84)
Swāmī Rāma (1925–1996) was born Brij Kiśore Dhasmana or Brij Kiśore Kumar, to a northern Indian Brahmin family in a small village called Toli in the Garhwal Himalayas. From an early age he was raised in the Himalayas by his master Bengali Baba and, under the guidance of his master, traveled from temple to temple and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster, who was living in a remote region of Tibet. From 1949 to 1952 he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham (also Karveer Peeth or Karweer Peeth) in South India. After returning to his master in 1952 and practising further for many years in the Himalayan caves, Swami Rama was encouraged by his teacher to go to the West, where he spent a considerable portion of his life teaching, specifically in the United States and Europe.
He is especially notable as one of the first yogis to allow himself to be studied by Western scientists. In the 1960s he allowed himself to be examined by scientists at the Menninger Clinic who studied his ability to voluntarily control bodily processes (such as heartbeat, blood pressure, body temperature, etc.) that are normally considered to be non-voluntary (autonomic).