This article provides an overview of Sri Aurobindo’s psychological
thought and system of Integral Yoga Psychology (IYP). Relevant
biographical and historical background is introduced, and his influence
on the development of transpersonal psychology reviewed. Using Sri
Aurobindo’s cosmology of consciousness as a framework for transpersonal
experience, IYP’s model of planes of consciousness and parts of the
being is explained and illustrated with quotations from Sri Aurobindo’s
writings. Emphasis is placed on the psychic being (soul) and overhead
planes of consciousness, as these are central to IYP’s psycho-spiritual
method of transforming the ego. Finally, implications for transpersonal
development and transpersonal therapy are formulated, and some clinical
Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), the noted Indian spiritual teacher, is a
seminal thinker whose writings have immense value for transpersonal
psychology. In addition to interpreting the “perennial philosophy” to
the West in an experientially authoritative and intellectually accurate
fashion, he also made original contributions to transpersonal
psychology. While several important transpersonal thinkers have been
influenced by Sri Aurobindo’s work (including Murphy, Wilber,
Cortright, and others), this journal has never undertaken a
comprehensive presentation of his psychological system. The purpose of
this essay, therefore, is to explain Sri Aurobindo’s contributions to
transpersonal psychology and provide readers with an overview to use in
approaching his complex writings directly. Due to limited space, this
article will be more theoretical than clinical, although clinical
applications will be indicated in several places.
Biographical and Historical Background. Born Aurobindo Ghose in
Calcutta, on August 15, 1872, Aurobindo was educated in England and
graduated at the top of his class at Cambridge, where he studied
classics and imbibed both Christianity and the paradigm of Western
rationalism. Aurobindo returned to his homeland in the 1890s with the
aim of fostering Indian nationalism, and as a young man helped lead the
first movement for Indian independence, which was put down by the
British and later resuscitated by Gandhi. In 1910, after serving a
yearlong prison sentence for sedition, Aurobindo moved to Pondicherry,
then in the French territory of India, where he dedicated the rest of
his life to his spiritual practice and teaching.
By the early 1920s, Aurobindo had gained recognition in India as an
accomplished yogi, prompting the appellation of “Sri” Aurobindo (Sri is
a Sanskrit term of respect given to important spiritual figures). In
1926, he founded the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a small spiritual community,
in conjunction with Mirra Alfassa (1878-1973), his French collaborator
and co-teacher. Within the Ashram, Alfassa came to be called “the
Mother,” in accordance with how female spiritual figures are honored in
India. As the Mother, she administered all of the daily functions of
the Ashram and personally guided residents in their sadhana (spiritual
discipline). Sri Aurobindo always considered the Mother to be his
spiritual peer, and contrary to some popular misconceptions, they were
never married and had no romantic liaison. At the end of her life, the
Mother also founded Auroville (located a few miles north of
Pondicherry), an international community that seeks to evolve a new
spiritually and materially sustainable lifestyle for the 21st
By the time of Sri Aurobindo’s passing in 1950, his reputation had
grown international. Pearl Buck and others nominated him for the Nobel
Prize in literature in 1950, and many think he would have won it had he
lived. Since his passing, India has made stamps and coins in Sri
Aurobindo’s honor, schoolbooks remember him as a founding father of the
Indian nation, his bust sits permanently in the Indian Parliament, and
he has become recognized as one of the leading Indian spiritual figures
of the 20th century (see Heehs, 1989, for biographical details).
Culturally and philosophically, Sri Aurobindo’s key contributions to
the ancient tradition of Indian yoga were to emphasize the spiritual
possibilities of matter and embodied life on earth, and to
counterbalance male images of the Divine (e.g., as Shiva, Vishnu,
Brahma) with a renewed appreciation for the Divine as Mother
(Radhakrishnan & Moore, 1957; Aurobindo, 1999). Sri Aurobindo thus
belongs to the resurgence of the feminine principle that is felt
elsewhere in modern religious and spiritual discourse, and the work of
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother upholds the core values of modern
feminism. Psychodynamically, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are
especially interesting because they represent one of the rare instances
in cultural history where both paternal and maternal role models are
figured simultaneously in the role of spiritual teacher, and the
distribution of authority between them is equal and symmetrically
reciprocated. That fact alone should warrant further study of their
work by transpersonal psychologists.
Influence on Transpersonal Psychology
Sri Aurobindo’s ideas have already influenced the development of
transpersonal psychology in many ways. Spiegelberg, who helped found
the American Academy of Asian Studies, was an Aurobindo enthusiast and
introduced Michael Murphy to the writings of Sri Aurobindo. Murphy
actually studied in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in the late 1950s, and his
project at Esalen was in part inspired by this experience, as was his
later work on transpersonal experiences of the body (Murphy, 1992;
Taylor, 1999). At the same time, Chaudhuri, whom Sri Aurobindo
handpicked to represent his Integral Yoga in the United States, was
friendly with many of the leading figures of the West Coast renaissance
in the 1950s and 1960s, and founded the Asian Institute of Integral
Studies, which later became the California Institute of Integral
Studies (Chaudhuri, 1965). Parsons, who is currently documenting
Murphy’s work at Esalen, has also written insightfully on the subject
of spiritual psychology with reference to Aurobindo (Parsons, 1999, and
personal communication, 2004). Cortright, too, uses many of Sri
Aurobindo’s ideas in his transpersonal approach to psychotherapy and
T-groups, and recently led a conference on transpersonal/yoga
psychology in Auroville (Cortright, 1997, 2001; Cortright, Kahn, &
Hess, 2003; and personal communication, 2005).
In addition, Wilber cites Sri Aurobindo often and ranks him as one of
the pioneers of integral studies. Although Wilber feels Sri Aurobindo
never fully assimilated the intersubjective (cultural) and
interobjective (social) differentiations of modernity (Wilber, 2000,
pp. 74-85), one may disagree as Sri Aurobindo’s life and work suggest
otherwise. Biographical evidence shows that he successfully blended
Asian and Western values in his personal life (Heehs, 1989), thus
demonstrating assimilation of the cultural relativity proposed by
modernism, and his works on socio-cultural and geo-political evolution,
The Human Cycle and The Ideal of Human Unity, are all about the
developments in and differentiations among the three value spheres of
art, ethics (morals), and science that Wilber considers central to
modernity (Aurobindo, 1970c; Wilber, 2000, pp. 59-73). Furthermore, one
has only to read accounts of Sri Aurobindo’s support of the Allies in
World War II, or his parting reflections on the cold war and the United
Nations, to see that he grasped the fundamental issues of the 20th
century as lucidly as any (Nirodbaran, 1972; Aurobindo, 1970c, pp.
556-571). Indeed, it is precisely because of Sri Aurobindo’s modernism
that contemporary Aurobindonian thinkers are so concerned about the
pressing interpersonal, cultural, social, and political issues of our
times (Lithman, 2003).
In India, Sri Aurobindo’s work has had more impact through yoga than
psychology, probably because yoga has such a long history in Indian
culture. Nonetheless, several authors have published important
presentations of Sri Aurobindo’s psychological thought, many of them
under the auspices of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of
Education. Sen was the first to write on the subject and coined the
term “integral psychology” to characterize Sri Aurobindo’s approach
(Sen, 1986). Dalal has written several excellent collections of essays
that compare Sri Aurobindo’s ideas and Western psychology, and this
article owes much to his efforts (Dalal, 2001a, 2001b). Vrinte has
written comparative studies of Sri Aurobindo, Maslow, transpersonal
psychology, and Wilber’s work (Vrinte, 1995, 1996, 2002). Basu, a
psychiatrist, developed an integral model of health based on Sri
Aurobindo’s work, which importantly gives due credit to scientific
biomedicine and moves beyond the current model of
complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) to a fully consciousness-based
model (Basu, 2000). Cornelissen has organized several international
conferences on integral psychology, resulting in two collections of
essays (Cornelissen, 2001; Cornelissen & Joshi, 2004), and is
presently collaborating with others to compile the first comprehensive
textbook of Indian psychology (Cornelissen, Dalal, & Rao, in
press). Rao, who is co-heading this project and dedicated a career to
research in parapsychology, has authored an insightful exposition of
classical Indian psychology and modern non-local research, in which Sri
Aurobindo’s contributions are duly noted (Rao, 2002).
Integral Yoga Psychology
Integral Yoga Psychology (IYP) is eminently transpersonal in that it is
interested in studying and promoting the highest levels of spiritual
development, and of transforming human egoic consciousness into an
organized center for manifesting the Divine on earth. As a worldview,
IYP is theistic, experiential, empiric, and evolutionary. However, it
is not a religion, entails no proscribed beliefs or practices, and does
not ask anyone to view Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as gurus. Although
IYP is more an approach to transpersonal development than it is a type
of transpersonal therapy, it has points of clinical relevance that will
be discussed later.
In addition to the fact that IY P is based on experiential insights,
there are three main challenges in coming to a balanced understanding
of IYP, which are as follows:
1. The recorded works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother comprise a vast
literature that spans over 60 years and encompasses both written and
oral, public and private, communications;
2. Sri Aurobindo’ s writings can be difficult to grasp, because his
Victorian prose is long and meditative, while modern readers are
accustomed to shorter sentences and bullets of information;
3. Sri Aurobindo’s cosmology is the opposite of the materialist
worldview of Western science, and one must understand his metaphysics
in order to understand IYP . This essay will attempt to mitigate these
problems by presenting a concise overview of IYP, drawing selectively
from Sri Aurobindo’s writings so as to illustrate key concepts. Several
passages from Sri Aurobindo’s letters to disciples are quoted because
his letters are usually more succinct and practical than his formal
writings. Readers interested in the Mother’s life and work are referred
to Van Vrekhem for further
information (Van Vrekhem, 1998, 2000).
Cosmology of Consciousness
In terms of cosmology, Western science begins with the operational
assumption that matter is the only reality, and then directs all of its
energies at studying the details of how the material universe evolved
after the “big bang,” and how life evolved on earth much later.
However, Sri Aurobindo questions the basic assumption of materialism
and proposes an alternate, spiritual hypothesis for interpreting
evolutionary biology, psychology, and consciousness studies. In his
magnum opus on philosophy, The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo argues that
matter is simply a finite and dormant manifestation of the infinitely
conscious Divine Reality, and that biological evolution is the ordered
process through which transcendent Spirit expresses itself under the
conditions of matter (Aurobindo, 1970b).
Central to Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation of the evolution of
consciousness is his cosmological account of how matter came to exist
in the first place. In brief, Sri Aurobindo says that the supreme
Being/Reality sequentially delimits or differentiates a portion of its
infinite nature to become finite matter, and that this compressive
process happened (or is constantly happening) before time and space
came into existence, because the space-time continuum is a material
phenomenon. Sri Aurobindo calls the descending process through which
Spirit becomes matter involution, while evolution is the secondary
process through which Spirit slowly discloses the divine potential
involved in matter (Aurobindo, 1970b). Thus, Sri Aurobindo’s ideas
build upon and extend the range of classical Indian philosophy. In his
own words (written in the third person for public circulation):
The teaching of Sri Aurobindo starts from that of the ancient sages of
India that behind the appearances of the universe there is the Reality
of a Being and Consciousness, a Self of all things, one and eternal.
All beings are united in that One Self and Spirit but divided by a
certain separativity of consciousness, an ignorance of their true Self
and Reality in the mind, life and body. It is possible by a certain
psychological discipline to remove this veil of separative
consciousness and become aware of the true Self, the Divinity within us
and all. Sri Aurobindo’s teaching states that this One Being and
Consciousness is involved here in Matter. Evolution is the method by
which it liberates itself; consciousness appears in what seems to be
inconscient, and once having appeared is self-impelled to grow higher
and higher and at the same time to enlarge and develop towards a
greater and greater perfection. Life is the first step of this release
of consciousness; mind is the second; but the evolution does not finish
with mind, it awaits a release into something greater, a consciousness
which is spiritual and supramental. The next step of the evolution must
be towards the development of Supermind and Spirit as the dominant
power in the conscious being. For only then will the involved Divinity
in things release itself entirely and it become possible for life to
manifest perfection. (Aurobindo, 1972a)
Consequently, for Sri Aurobindo transpersonal experiences and strivings
are the mark of evolution at work, and indeed human beings are only a
transitional species on the way to a more spiritual (i.e., supramental)
life-form that will evolve on earth in the future. While one may
certainly question Sri Aurobindo’s predictions, one has at least to
respect his intellectual integrity in taking a stance on key issues.
For instance, now that we have brain scans of Tibetan monks and
Christian nuns that reveal a unique pattern of cerebral metabolism
associated with transcendent states (Newberg & d’Aquili, 1998,
2001) one can expect such studies to become more nuanced in the future,
perhaps describing a variety of psycho-spiritual states and capacities
according to different associated neuro-physiologic and neuro-anatomic
Unless transpersonal psychology is willing to let transpersonal
experiences be reduced back to brain chemistry, it will need to
articulate how the brain can be a correlated substrate of experience
rather than its generator and final cause. Almost a century ago, in his
first draft of the Life Divine (written 1914-19), Sri Aurobindo
anticipated this dilemma and articulated a consciousness paradigm that
can absorb emerging developments in neuroscience without needing to
accept to the dogma of materialism (Miovic, 2003, pp. 113-32, and
Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being
Sri Aurobindo describes the sequential involution of the infinite
Reality into finite matter using the metaphor of a series of descending
steps on a staircase, which he calls “planes of consciousness.” Listed
from highest to lowest in descending ontological order, the major
planes of consciousness are as follows (based on Aurobindo, 1970a, pp.
1. Sacchidananda (Brahman, the transcendent Divine)
2. Supermind (the self-determining infinite consciousness)
3. Overmind (cosmic consciousness, plane of the Gods and Goddesses)
4. Intuitive Mind
5. Illumined Mind
6. Higher Mind
7. Mind (with several layers)
8. Vital (with higher, middle, and lower subdivisions)
9. Subtle Physical
10. Physical proper (usually refers to the body)
11. Subconscient (individual and universal “unconscious” of psychology)
12. Inconscient (matter proper and existential Non-Being)
According to Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual experience, all of the
non-material planes of consciousness listed above (i.e., everything
from the subtle physical up to the Sacchidananda) exist in their own
right, independent of matter, and would continue to exist even if our
current material universe came to an end. Thus, Sri Aurobindo views
each plane of consciousness as a universe unto itself, and the sum of
created existence as a spectrum or stacked series of universes that
ascend from densely unconscious but manifest matter at the base, to
fully conscious but unmanifested Sacchidananda at the peak
(sacchidananda is a Vedantic term that means
In addition to this vertical scale of consciousness, Sri Aurobindo also
describes a concentric dimension of consciousness, which he refers to
as “parts of the being.” While the planes of consciousness are
impersonal states or gradations of existence, the “parts of the being”
refer to organized centers and faculties of consciousness that exist or
can emerge in the human being. Through these, the human being becomes
aware of and enters into relationship with the aforementioned planes of
consciousness. The major parts of the being are listed below, from most
interior on the left to most exterior on the right:
- Inmost Being Inner Being Outer Being
- Psychic being Inner mental Mental (cognitive) (evolving soul)
- Inner vital Vital (affective)
- Inner physical Physical (biological)
Essentially, the outer being with its physical, vital (i.e. emotional
and libidinal), and mental awareness constitutes the “self” or “ego” of
the Western biopsychosocial model. Between the psychic being (evolving
soul) and the inner being stands the Purusha, or pure witness
consciousness that people sometimes experience in meditation, while
behind the psychic being stand the Jivatman and Atman (non-evolving
Self). The Jivatman and Atman will be described later, but space does
not permit a discussion of the Purusha, so readers are referred to
Dalal for further exposition of that topic (Dalal, 2001a).
Experientially, Sri Aurobindo observes that the planes of consciousness
above the Mind, when clearly perceived, are subjectively felt to exist
above the head and pour their influence down into the inner being from
there. For this reason, he often refers to them as the “overhead”
planes. In contrast, the parts of the inner and inmost beings are
experienced as follows:
The chakras as residing within the body or along the spine and opening
to the inner mental, vital and physical sheaths of consciousness (see
Table 1); the psychic being (soul) behind the heart chakra; and the
Jivatman and Atman entirely above the body (Aurobindo, 1970a, pp.
The neuro-physiological correlates for this somatotopic organization of
experience are not currently known, but offer a fascinating subject for
future research. In the following letter, Sri Aurobindo summarizes the
psychological and spiritual functions of the various parts of the
There are, we might say, two beings in us, one on the surface, our
ordinary exterior mind, life, body consciousness, another behind the
veil, an inner mind, an inner life, an inner physical consciousness
constituting another or inner self. This inner self once awake opens in
its turn to our true real eternal self. It opens inwardly to the soul,
called in the language of this yoga the psychic being which supports
our successive births and at each birth assumes a new mind, life and
body. It opens above to the Self or Spirit which is unborn and by
conscious recovery of it we transcend the changing personality and
achieve freedom and full mastery over our nature. (Aurobindo, 1970a,
The rest of this essay will elaborate and illustrate the various
relationships among the planes of consciousness and parts of the being
above, and describe their relevance to transpersonal development.
Liberation vs. Transformation
One of the perennial sources of confusion for Western transpersonalists
interested in the perennial philosophy is the question of what
precisely constitutes “enlightenment.” Variously referred to as moksha,
mukti, nirvana, satori, Self-realization, or realization of the Atman
or Brahman in different traditions of Buddhist and Hindu literature,
Western readers may well wonder if the Buddhists who experience nirvana
as no-self (anatta or anatman) are achieving the same enlightenment as
the Vedantists who experience the transcendent Self alone as real.
Also, some teachers and traditions have described enlightenment as a
sudden and final awakening (such as Ramana Maharshi and various Zen
masters), while others (including Sri Aurobindo) maintain the
experience can be gradually cultivated and grow in frequency,
intensity, depth, and duration. Sri Aurobindo accepts all of these
terms as roughly equivalent, and notes both the commonalities and
nuanced variations in people’s experience of enlightenment:
The Buddhist Nirvana and the Adwaitin’s Moksha are the same thing. It
corresponds to a realisation in which one does not feel oneself any
longer as an individual with such a name or such a form, but an
infinite eternal Self spaceless (even when in space), timeless (even
when in time). Note that one can perfectly well do actions in that
condition and it is not to be gained only by Samadhi [yogic trance
state]. (Aurobindo, 1970a, p. 62)
The impressions in the approach to Infinity or the entry into it are
not always quite the same; much depends on the way in which the mind
approaches it. It is felt first by some as an infinity above, by others
as an infinity around into which the mind disappears (as an energy) by
losing its limits. Some feel not the absorption of the mind-energy into
the infinite, but a falling entirely inactive; others feel it as a
lapse or disappearance of energy into pure Existence. Some first feel
the infinity as a vast existence into which all sinks or disappears,
others, as you describe it, as an infinite ocean of Light above, others
as an infinite ocean of Power above. If certain schools of Buddhists
felt it in their experience as a limitless Shunya [void or non-being],
the Vedantists, on the contrary, see it as a positive Self-Existence
erected into various philosophies, each putting its conception as
definitive; but behind each conception there was such an experience.
(Aurobindo, 1970a, p. 63)
Sri Aurobindo often refers to the realization of the non-dual awareness
described above as spiritual liberation, because it brings a release
from the egocentric consciousness of the outer mind, life, and body.
However, he notes that this first realization of the Self is passive,
and can be followed by a dynamic heightening and widening of
consciousness that leads eventually to transformation of both the inner
and outer beings. The following letter to a disciple further describes
the difference between liberation and transformation in the sequence of
The realisation of t he Spirit comes long before the development of
overmind or supermind; hundreds of sadhaks [spiritual seekers] in all
times have had the realisation of the Atman in the higher mental
planes, buddheh paratah, but the supramental realisation was not
theirs. One can get partial realisations of the Self or Spirit or the
Divine on any plane, mental, vital, physical even, and when one rises
above the ordinary mental plane of man into a higher and larger mind,
the Self begins to appear in all its conscious wideness. It is by full
entry into this wideness of the Self that cessation of mental activity
becomes possible; one gets the inner Silence. After that this inner
Silence can remain even when there is activity of any kind; the being
remains silent within, the action goes on in the instruments, and one
receives all the necessary initiations and execution of action whether
mental, vital or physical from a higher source without the fundamental
peace and calm of the Spirit being troubled.
The overmind and supermind states are something yet higher than this;
but before one can understand them, one must first have the
self-realisation [Self-realization], the full action of the
spiritualised mind and heart, the psychic awakening, the liberation of
the imprisoned consciousness….(Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 105-6)
In short, Sri Aurobindo opines that what people usually mean by the
word “enlightenment” is not necessarily the end of transpersonal
development, but can be rather the beginning of a higher evolution. Sri
Aurobindo’s views on the Buddha and Buddhist psychology are complex and
deserve a separate essay. Briefly, Buddhist phenomenology has certainly
described aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s transpersonal anatomy of
awareness, but using different terminology and often an agnostic
world-view. Sri Aurobindo accepts this phenomenology as a statement of
experience, but notes that more comprehensive experiences are possible,
too, and he rejects Impermanence as the ultimate truth of existence.
For Sri Aurobindo, omnipresent Reality is the ultimate truth of
existence, of which the Buddhist Void and phenomenal impermanence are
only partial aspects. Also, he feels that no school of Buddhism ever
clearly set the goal of achieving a supramental evolution on earth
(Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 59-69).
Self, Overmind, and Supermind
Whatever one decides to make of Sri Aurobindo’s larger claims about
cosmology and the evolution of consciousness, his phenomenological
descriptions of the “overhead” planes of consciousness are a useful
contribution to transpersonal psychology. Space does not permit a
detailed study here of the differences among the Higher Mind, Illumined
Mind, and Intuitive Mind, but the following statement nicely summarizes
some of the essential qualities and characteristics of each, and also
describes further the relationship between static (passive) and dynamic
realizations of the Self (Atman):
The Self governs the diversity of its creation by its unity on all the
planes from the Higher Mind upwards on which the realisation of the One
is the natural basis of consciousness. But as one goes upward, the view
changes, the power of consciousness changes, the Light becomes ever
more intense and potent. Although the static realisation of Infinity
and Eternity and the Timeless One remains the same, the vision of the
workings of the One becomes ever wider and is attended with a greater
instrumentality of Force and a more comprehensive grasp of what has to
be known and done. All possible forms and constructions of things
become more and more visible, put in their proper place, utilisable.
Moreover, what is thought-knowledge in the Higher Mind becomes
illumination in the Illumined Mind and direct intimate vision in the
Intuition. But the Intuition sees in flashes and combines through a
constant play of light—through revelations, inspirations, intuitions,
swift discriminations. The overmind sees calmly, steadily, in great
masses and large extensions of space and time and relation, globally;
it creates and acts in the same way—it is the world of the great Gods,
the divine Creators. Only, each creates in his own way; he sees all but
sees all from his own viewpoint. There is not the absolute supramental
harmony and certitude. These, inadequately expressed, are some of the
differences. I speak, of course, of these planes in themselves—when
acting in the human consciousness they are necessarily much diminished
in their working by having to depend on the human instrumentation of
mind, vital and physical. Only when these are quieted, they get a
fuller force and reveal more of their character. (Aurobindo, 1970a, p.
As stated above, Sri Aurobindo describes the Overmind as the plane of
the great gods and goddesses of Greek, Hindu, Mayan, and other
traditions. In his view, the Gods are real beings who exist eternally
on the overmental plane, and are not merely creations of a primitive
human mentality. The human mind can build forms that the Gods accept,
but the Gods exist in their own right and can inspire various forms of
manifestation into the human mind. For example, Sri Aurobindo noted
that the Greek goddess Pallas Athene and the Indian goddess Maheshwari
are not two different beings, but the same being manifested differently
in two separate cultures (Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 383-87, 389). According
to this principle, the Egyptian Aman-Re, the Greek Apollo, the Hindu
Surya, and the Mayan Sun God are not four separate beings, but one and
the same, as it is for the Greek Poseidon, Hindu Varuna, and Mayan
Chac. In my experience, the presence of these immortal beings can still
be felt at various temples in Greece, Mexico, and India.
A second important characteristic of the Overmind, according to Sri
Aurobindo, is that people generally have experiences of cosmic
consciousness through opening to this plane of existence. Since Bucke
introduced the term “cosmic consciousness” to describe various mystical
states drawn from biographical data (Bucke, 1969), the term has been
used loosely to denote a broad range of transpersonal experiences. Sri
Aurobindo uses the term “cosmic consciousness” specifically to describe
the awareness of cosmic or universal (i.e., not personal or individual)
forces operative on each plane of consciousness. Such cosmic
consciousness may come before spiritual liberation, but usually it
comes later, with the overmental realization, which Sri Aurobindo
evokes vividly here:
When the Overmind descends, the predominance of the centralizing
ego-sense is entirely subordinated, lost in largeness of being and
finally abolished; a wide cosmic perception and feeling of a boundless
universal self and movement replaces it: many motions that were
formerly egocentric may still continue, but they occur as currents or
ripples in the cosmic wideness. Thought, for the most part, no longer
seems to originate individually in the body or the person but manifests
from above or comes in upon the cosmic mind-waves: all inner individual
sight or intelligence of things is now a revelation or illumination of
what is seen or comprehended, but the source of the revelation is not
one’s separate self but in the universal knowledge; the feelings,
emotions, sensations are similarly felt as waves from the same cosmic
immensity breaking upon the subtle and the gross body and responded to
in kind from the individual centre of the universality. In this
boundless largeness, not only the separate ego but all sense of
individuality, even of a subordinated or instrumental individuality,
may entirely disappear; the cosmic existence, the cosmic consciousness,
the cosmic delight, the play of cosmic forces alone are left.
(Aurobindo, 1970b, p. 987)
Obviously, to live in such an overmental consciousness permanently
would constitute an extraordinary transpersonal achievement, for it
would entirely alter one’s normal awareness and whole sense of self.
Nonetheless, Sri Aurobindo still considers the Overmind as pertaining
to the “Ignorance,” because it is a consciousness of multiplicity not
absolute unity. In contrast, the Supermind is a unitary
Truth-Consciousness: The Supermind is in its very essence a
Truth-Consciousness, a consciousness always free from the Ignorance
that is the foundation of our present natural or evolutionary existence
and from which nature in us is trying to arrive at self-knowledge and
world-knowledge and a right consciousness and the right use of our
existence in the universe. The Supermind, because it is a
Truth-Consciousness, has this knowledge inherent in it and this power
of true existence; its course is straight and can go direct to its aim,
its field is wide and can even be made illimitable. This is because its
very nature is knowledge: it has not to acquire knowledge but possesses
it in its own right; its steps are not from nescience or ignorance into
the imperfect light, but from truth to greater truth, from right
perception to deeper perception, from intuition to intuition, from
illumination to utter and boundless luminousness, from growing
widenesses to the utter vasts and to very infinitude. On its summits it
possesses the divine omniscience and omnipotence, but even in an
evolutionary movement of its own graded self-manifestation by which it
would eventually reveal its own highest heights it must be in its very
nature essentially free from ignorance and error: It starts from truth
and light and moves always in truth and light. (Aurobindo, 1971, pp.
In Sri Aurobindo’s judgment, the central limitation of the perennial
philosophy is that it leads only to a passive perception of the
transcendent Self (Atman), whereas supramental realization would confer
an active mastery of phenomenal existence, because Supermind is the
subsidiary aspect or movement of Sacchidananda that has, in fact,
created all the worlds and planes of phenomenal manifestation. Sri
Aurobindo’s final prose writings describe possible individual, social,
and biological routes a supramental evolution could take in the future.
The following passage highlights
some of his intimations about the future of the body:
New powers have to be acquired by the body that our present humanity
could not hope to realize, could not even dream of or could only
imagine. Much that can now only be known, worked out, or created by the
use of invented tools and machinery might be achieved by the new body
in its own power or by the inhabitant spirit through its own direct
spiritual force. The body itself might acquire new means and ranges of
communication with other bodies, new processes of acquiring knowledge,
a new aesthesis, new potencies of manipulation of itself and objects.
It might not be impossible for it to possess or disclose means native
to its own constitution, substance, or natural instrumentation for
making the far near and annulling distance, cognizing what is now
beyond the body’s cognizance, acting where action is now out of its
reach or its domain, developing subtleties and plasticities that could
not be permitted under present conditions to the needed fixity of a
material frame…. (Aurobindo, 1971, pp. 76-77)
Note well that Sri Aurobindo views the “new powers” described here as
new properties and abilities of the physical body itself, not the usual
clairvoyance, telepathy, telekinesis, and other parapsychological
phenomenon that arise from the inner being (see below). For IYP, this
distinction is relevant to correctly interpreting Murphy’s extensive
documentation of mind-body phenomenon (Murphy, 1992), and related data
from contemporary non-local research (such as Braud, 2000; and Rao,
2002). Whether or not certain esoteric doctrines implied a supramental
transformation of the body is open to debate, however, Sri Aurobindo
makes his own position clear. It should also be clearly understood that
Sri Aurobindo’s notion of a supramental evolution would necessarily
encompass all four quadrants of Wilber’s model of psychology, as Wilber
seems to think differently (Wilber, 2000). Finally, note that future
alterations to the human brain and body through genetic engineering
would not contradict Sri Aurobindo’s proposition of a supramental
evolution, but would rather constitute one route (among others) through
which such an evolution could proceed.
The Psychic Being
Practically, the central process of IYP is the evocation (“bringing
forward”) of the true soul, or seat of divine individuality within each
person, as the soul alone can lead towards a radical transformation of
the outer ego. Sri Aurobindo calls the soul the “psychic being,”
coining his term from the original meaning of the Greek root psyche,
and credits the Mother with having shown him the full practical import
of the psychic being. The following letter lucidly differentiates the
parts of the inmost being (Atman, Jivatman, and psychic being) and
describes their respective roles in the process of spiritual liberation
and spiritual transformation:
The Jivatman, spark-soul and psychic being are three different forms of
the same reality and they must not be mixed up together, as that
confuses the clearness of the inner experience. The Jivatman or spirit,
as it is usually called in English, is self-existent above the
manifested or instrumental being—it is superior to birth and death,
always the same, the individual Self or Atman. It is the eternal true
being of the individual. The soul is a spark of the Divine which is not
seated above the manifested being, but comes down into the
manifestation to support its evolution in the material world. It is at
first an undifferentiated power of the Divine Consciousness containing
all possibilities which have not yet taken form, but to which it is the
function of evolution to give form. This spark is there in all living
beings from the lowest to the highest.
The psychic being is formed by the soul in its evolution. It supports
the mind, vital, body, grows by their experiences, carries the nature
from life to life. It is the psychic or caitya purusa. At first it is
veiled by mind, vital and body, but as it grows, it becomes capable of
coming forward and dominating the mind, life and body; in the ordinary
man it depends on them for expression and is not able to take them up
and freely use them. The life of the being is animal or human and not
divine. When the psychic being can by sadhana [spiritual practice]
become dominant and freely use its instruments, then the impulse
towards the Divine becomes complete and the transformation of mind,
vital and body, not merely their liberation, becomes possible.
The Self or Atman being free and superior to birth and death, the
experience of the Jivatman and its unity with the supreme or universal
Self brings the sense of liberation, it is this which is necessary for
the supreme spiritual deliverance: but for the transformation of the
life and nature the awakening of the psychic being and its rule over
the nature are indispensable…. (Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 282-283)
IYP’s emphasis on the role of the psychic being in transpersonal
development is one of the key ways in which IYP differs from those
schools of Buddhist psycho-spiritual that do not recognize the
existence of a true soul (see Epstein, 1995). Subjectively, the psychic
being is usually felt as residing deep within the center of the chest,
behind the heart chakra, with which it is frequently confused. Opening
to the psychic being brings feelings of spiritual devotion, surrender
to the Divine, gratitude, sweetness, quiet joy, love of all that is
good and beautiful and harmonious, and a spontaneous recoil from all
that is false, evil, dishonest, selfish, or discordant (Aurobindo,
1970a, pp. 1092-1117).
Note that the intuitive tact or guidance of the psychic being is quite
different from the intuitions of “psychics” in the West, which usually
arise from various levels of the inner being, and are far more prone to
error (Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 458-61).
Now, a topic of perennial interest that involves the psychic being is
the process of reincarnation, which Sri Aurobindo accepts as a fact of
life (Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 433-63). However, he clarifies that it is
not the outer personality that reincarnates, but rather the psychic
being, whose aim is to grow through the process of evolution. In
another letter to a disciple, Sri Aurobindo commented on this in a
somewhat humorous vein:
You must avoid a common popular blunder about reincarnation. The
popular idea is that Titus Balbus is reborn again as John Smith, a man
with the same personality, character, attainments as he had in his
former life with the sole difference that he wears coat and trousers
instead of a toga and speaks cockney English instead of popular Latin.
That is not the case. What would be the earthly use of repeating the
same personality or character a million times from the beginning of
time till its end? The soul comes into birth for experience, for
growth, for evolution till it can bring the Divine into Matter. It is
the central being that incarnates, not the outer personality—the
personality is simply a mould that it creates for its figures of
experience in that one life. In another birth it will create for itself
a different personality, different capacities, a different
life and career…. (Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 455)
Psychologically, an important corollary of IYP’s view of evolution is
that the future is more important than the past, because the whole
mission of the psychic being is to grow towards a supramental
manifestation on earth. Consequently, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother did
not advocate “past-life regression” as a primary therapeutic method
(which is not to say that past-life memories cannot be healing in some
instances), and also warned that people’s purported past-life memories
are easily distorted by imagination and autosuggestion. Only the
psychic being’s memory of the past is veridical, and even when one has
the true psychic memory, that fact alone does not solve the problem of
what to do with one’s present and future lives (for comparative views,
see Weiss, 1992; June, 1996).
As Sri Aurobindo noted succinctly:
But too much importance must not be given to the past lives. For the
purpose of this yoga one is what one is and, still more, what one will
be. What one was has a minor importance. (Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 451-2)
In my experience, discussing this future-orientation can help prepare
clients who are considering visiting a “psychic” to get a past-life
reading, or who are interested in past-life regression therapy. By
setting realistic expectations as to what can be achieved with such
consultations, and by maintaining focus on current choices and future
development, the therapist can help the client maintain a
growth-orientation that is both emotionally and spiritually healthy.
This approach also tends to reduce using spirituality to defend against
or bypass psychological issues (see Battista, 1996; and Cortright,
For example, I once consulted on a case where the client developed an
erotic transference to the therapist t hat was simultaneously defensive
and based on a real past-life relationship as determined by a psychic.
In this situation, acknowledging both the spiritual and psychological
components of the transference allowed the therapy to proceed
productively, because the client felt genuinely understood.
The Inner Being
In the process of trying to contact the psychic being, people often
experience some aspect of the inner being, which stands between the
psychic being and the outer personality (ego). In the terminology of
IYP, the inner being consists of the subtle bodies or sheaths of
consciousness (inner mental, vital, and physical), the chakras of
classical Indian yoga, and an individual element of the subconscious.
The correspondences among the traditional yogic descriptions of the
chakras and Sri Aurobindo’s elucidation of their psycho-spiritual
functions are interesting, and are listed in Table 1. Again, IYP views
most parapsychological and non-local phenomenon studied in the West as
arising from the inner being (for instance, precognition and telepathy
involve the inner mental, “astral travel” the inner vital, and
spontaneous or “miraculous” healing the inner physical).
Sri Aurobindo views the chakras as subtle (i.e., non-material) organs
of perception and action that put the individual consciousness into
relation with the larger universe of forces and beings that operate on
each of the non-material planes of consciousness described previously.
Sri Aurobindo generally agrees with classical Tantric descriptions of
the chakras, however, he does add original insights based on his notion
of the evolution (see Table 1).
For example, he discerns a complex interaction among several parts of
the being and planes of consciousness associated subjectively with the
levels of the subtle body that correspond roughly to the physical
region of the throat, neck, and lower face. This nexus of consciousness
accounts for a variety of psychological and clinical phenomenon,
including the “mental vital,” through which strong emotions and
affective drives can rise up and cloud reasoning (as in the defense
mechanism of rationalization); and the “vital mind,” which is involved
in day-dreaming and narcissistic fantasies of grandeur (Aurobindo,
1970a, pp. 334-38, 1329).
This nexus also encompasses the “mechanical mind,” which can produce
the clinical syndrome of obsessive-compulsive disorder (now known to
have a specific neuropsychological substrate whose function can be
modified both pharmacologically and by cognitive behavior therapy); and
the “physical mind,” which is responsible for problems in speech,
self-expression of mental will, and dealing mentally with the physical
world (Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 373-75).
[INSERT TABLE 1 HERE]
With regard to other aspects of classical Tantra, it is important to
note that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother did not recommend raising the
kundalini shakti (force or power) from below, because doing so can lead
to a variety of psychological disturbances acknowledged by
transpersonal psychology (Scotton, Chinen, & Battista, 1996, pp.
261-270). Instead, IYP proceeds by bringing forward the psychic being
and infusing the psychic into the entire inner being first, and then
the outer being, as well. The advantage of this method is that by
virtue of its inherent contact with Divine, the psychic being can
gently open the chakras and canalize the kundalini power without danger
of inducing what transpersonal psychologists now call “spiritual
emergencies” (Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 1146-51, 1091-1239).
The Subconscious and Inconscient
The final elements of IYP that will be reviewed here are the
subconscious and the Inconscient. The Inconscient refers to a densely
unconscious inversion of the Sacchidananda in which all being and
existence seem to disappear. From this arises the subatomic and atomic
consciousness of matter, as well as the molecular organization of
matter into intracellular machinery. In yogic experience, the
Inconscient can be felt externally as extending through all material
substance (e.g., even rocks have a consciousness according to Sri
Aurobindo), and internally as supporting the consciousness of the
body’s cells. The Mother’s statements about her “cellular yoga” in the
latter part of her life afford extraordinary glimpses into the
spiritual transformation of the Inconscient (Van Vrekhem, 1998, 2000).
However, this goes well beyond the current purview of transpersonal
psychology, and transpersonal therapists should not confuse the
emotional memories clients frequently have during bodywork with the
true cellular consciousness of supramental yoga.
Psychologically, a much more common clinical phenomenon is the
interfusion of the vital plane with the physical consciousness of the
body, leading to a variety of ways in which emotion can be somatized.
This is how and why body-oriented therapies (massage, acupuncture,
myofascial release, therapeutic touch, etc) can be helpful in expanding
the range of consciously experienced emotion, and in resolving
somatized psychological distress (Basu, 2000).
Alternatively or simultaneously, repressed emotion can be pushed down
and back from frontal awareness into what Sri Aurobindo calls the
subconscious. This plane of consciousness accounts for the
“unconscious” of Western psychology, as well as chronic or recurrent
physical illnesses and habits:
The subconscient is universal as well as individual like all the other
main parts of the Nature….It contains the potentiality of all the
primitive reactions to life which struggle out to the surface from the
dull and inert strands of Matter and form by a constant development a
slowly evolving and self-formulating consciousness; it contains them
not as ideas, perceptions or conscious reactions but as the fluid
substance of these things. But also all that is consciously experienced
sinks down into the subconscient, not as precise though submerged
memories but as obscure yet obstinate impressions of experience, and
these can come up at any time as dreams, as mechanical repetitions of
past thought, feelings, action, etc., as ‘complexes’ exploding into
action and event, etc., etc. The subconscient is the main cause why all
things repeat themselves and nothing ever gets changed except in
appearance. It is the cause why people say character cannot be changed,
the cause also of the constant return of things one hoped to have got
rid of for ever. All seeds are there and all Sanskaras [fixed patterns]
of the mind, vital, body,–it is the main support of death and disease
and the last fortress (seemingly impregnable) of the Ignorance. All too
that is suppressed without being wholly got rid of sinks down there and
remains as seed ready to surge up or sprout up at any moment.
(Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 354-5)
Sri Aurobindo is careful to differentiate the subconscious from the
inner being (subtle physical, inner vital, and inner mental), which he
also calls the “subliminal being.” From the perspective of IYP, Jung’s
memoirs reveal a rich and detailed subliminal awareness (see Jung &
Jaffe, 1961), and his notion of the collective unconscious reflects an
interaction between the subliminal being and portions of the
subconscious. Also, note that Jung did not definitively settle on the
immortality of the soul until the end of his life (McLynn, 1996), so it
is debatable to what degree specific passages from his writings do or
do not reflect the influence of the psychic being on human personality.
Implications: Transpersonal Development
The implications of Integral Yoga Psychology (IYP) for transpersonal
psychology can be divided into two broad categories, transpersonal
development and transpersonal therapy, which will be addressed in
Evidently, IYP is consonant with the central thesis of transpersonal
psychology that development proceeds from pre-personal, to personal, to
transpersonal levels (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993). However, because IYP
is theistic and views reincarnation as a fact, for IYP the development
of the psychic being (true soul) across multiple lives, and the outer
personality (ego, self) in one life, are two distinct yet interacting
trajectories of growth. Thus, one can find emotionally immature
children with well-developed psychic beings, as well as adults whose
psychic expression is inhibited by Axis I and II disorders, while much
of public life is organized by “generative” adults who are well-meaning
but may have less psychic sweetness than certain low-functioning
schizophrenics I have been privileged to meet. Such observations could
not arise if inner and outer development were invariably synchronized.
By the same token, psychic development does not erase or obviate the
normal sequence of outer development described by Erikson (Erikson,
1997), but rather heightens the spiritual consciousness brought to each
stage of the lifecycle. Wilber arrives at a similar conclusion about
childhood spirituality, but seems tentative, perhaps because he
discusses the issue as if all children had equal psychic (soul)
development (Wilber, 2000, pp. 139-42), while Sri Aurobindo and the
Mother observe that they do not.
At the same time, interactions routinely arise between the psychic
being and outer personality, some of which are reflected in Fowler’s
research on stages of faith development (Fowler, 1981). The most
pervasive example of this interaction effect is captured in the Western
construct of “ego strength,” which for IYP includes positive effects
the psychic being exerts on ego development and functioning. Thus, what
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother would call “highly psychisized”
personalities, such as Mother Teresa and the current Dalai Lama, score
extremely well on ego strength (GAF nearing 100) even though their
level of development is clearly post-egoic. In terms of IYP, such
transpersonal growth is possible precisely because the psychic being
(soul) is entirely real and can, through its direct link with the
Divine, bring to the outer being a deep source of psychological
strength and sustenance. Practically, this means the psychic being
(soul) has the power to transform ego functioning, even to heal
psychological wounds that seem
Conceptually, a simple way to operationalize IYP is to extend
vertically the well-known hierarchy of ego-defense mechanisms, so as to
append psychic (soul) processes of ego-transformation (Table 2). Thus,
whereas ego defense mechanisms deny, disguise, or distort
negative/painful/frightening psychological content so as to make it
more bearable, psychic (soul) “movements” accept such content unaltered
and work to transmute it. In between ego defense mechanisms and psychic
movements proper, stand the psychological capacities familiar to
dynamic psychotherapists as the observing ego and to
cognitive-behavioral therapists as cognitive skills of affect
regulation (these functions are dubbed “therapeutic movements” in Table
2). Epstein (1995) has lucidly explained how these functions can be
strengthened by Buddhist meditation practices, and the present author
has suggested elsewhere that such ego-transformational processes
mediate between soul and ego (Miovic, 2001, 2003, pp. 90-112).
Table 2. Hierarchy of Ego Functioning
I. Ego defense mechanisms (adapted from Vaillant, 1993)
II. Ego transformational processes
- Therapeutic movements
- Observing ego (e.g. “witnessing” in meditation, “sitting with affect” in therapy)
- Psychic (soul) movements
Sri Aurobindo names and defines the psychic (soul) movements of
ego-transformation as follows. Aspiration is an inner invocation of and
yearning to feel the presence of the Divine and to manifest its
spiritual qualities in one’s life. By surrender he means to open
oneself entirely to that higher power and to it alone, and to let
oneself be a vehicle for its dictates. Rejection he defines as using
the psychic being’s discriminative tact to evaluate the source and
quality of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and to discard or
transform all that is false, weak, divisive, harmful, ego-centric, or
simply not conscious of the Divine (Aurobindo, 1999).
For both clients and therapists, it is critical not to confuse these
psychic (soul) movements with ego conflicts and deficits, or
unconscious drives and wishes (desires). “Surrender” here means to the
inner Divine as mediated via one’s own psychic being (soul), not to any
absolute human authority or the vulnerabilities of one’s own ego. True
spiritual practice requires the application of correct understanding
(insight), good judgment, willpower, and appropriate boundaries—all of
which are encompassed in Sri Aurobindo’s concept of “rejection.” Also,
true rejection proceeds directly from the soul, unlike suppression,
which is a psychological defense that involves trying to control
emotions with mental willpower (Miovic, 2001, 2003, pp. 90-112).
Finally, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother placed special emphasis on the
role of artistic endeavors in transpersonal development, as the
creative arts can be used as a field for learning to receive and
express inspiration from the inner being and higher planes of
consciousness. Sri Aurobindo’s commentaries on the spiritual sources of
poetic, literary, musical, and artistic inspiration are probably the
most insightful statements on the subject ever written (see Aurobindo,
Implications: Transpersonal Therapy
In the 1930s, Sri Aurobindo criticized the early psychoanalytic
practice of rapidly raising the lower vital subconscious through
Oedipal interpretations (Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 1605-6), and this has
led some to conclude incorrectly that he would be against contemporary
psychotherapy. On the contrary, psychoanalysis has evolved greatly
since the 1930s and is now generally in agreement with Sri Aurobindo’s
suggestion to strengthen ego functioning before delving into the
subconscious (Miovic, 2004; Mitchell & Black, 1995). Also, many
contemporary therapies (such as CBT, DBT, EMDR, interpersonal and
short-term models) avoid the subconscious entirely, or work at the
pre-conscious level and allow issues to emerge from the subconscious at
their own pace.
Thus, today one can say that the chief rationale for mental health
treatment from the perspective of IYP is that all manner of Axis I and
II issues engender much mental and vital (emotional) noise that
distracts one from spiritual practice offered calmly and quietly to the
Divine. In as much as IYP’s central strategy is to “quiet” the outer
being so that the psychic being can emerge, both psychotherapy and
psychotropic medications can be employed as tactical means to achieve
that strategic end. As a clinical framework, IYP is inclusive and
concurs with the many excellent insights and perspectives in the
Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology (Scotton, Chinen,
& Battista, 1996). IYP would simply encourage all clinicians to
develop a clearer functional analysis of the planes of consciousness
and parts of the being involved in any given clinical presentation and
treatment modality, and of helping clients to grow in awareness of the
IYP would, however, offer a few caveats for current transpersonal
practice to consider. First, although psychedelics, kundalini yoga, and
breathwork (called pranayama in yoga) can alter consciousness and
induce transpersonal experiences, these are all potentially dangerous
methods and even when done safely, they are either unnecessary or
incomplete in comparison to IYP’s method of opening to the psychic
being within and gradations of higher consciousness above. Second, it
is important to understand that classical meditation practice certainly
helps people develop a witnessing consciousness, but in order to
transform ego-functioning it is essential to find and evoke the psychic
being (evolving soul) as well. Third, understanding and dealing
effectively with the issue of hostile influence is the most difficult
problem a clinician can face, and is best avoided unless one truly has
the inner calling and spiritual protection needed to engage in such
work. Although possession and so-called alien abduction can lead
eventually to spiritual renewal (Lukoff, 1996; Mack 1994), clinicians
would be wise not enter this territory naively.
More specifically, Sri Aurobindo interprets many cases of psychosis and
epilepsy as due to the interaction among hostile vital beings who
invade or possess the individual, psychological issues that invite such
attacks (such as narcissistic and histrionic tendencies), and
underlying physical brain defects (whether genetic or acquired)that
permit and perpetuate the condition(s). However, Sri Aurobindo also
recognizes that some cases of psychosis and epilepsy may be purely
organic, as is the medical condition of delirium (Aurobindo, 1970a, pp.
1768-1775). Importantly, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother observed that
hostile vital beings are polymorphic in nature and can manifest
themselves in various forms, according to the mental schema of
different times and cultures. Thus, the demons and devils of old and
the inimical space aliens of today are related phenomenon that involve
the same hostile forces that have been plaguing humanity since its
beginning. Mack (1994) entertains this possibility in his seminal work
on alien abduction, but his discussion would have benefited from IYP’s
For example, I once had a Haitian patient with affective psychosis who
presented with vivid descriptions of being attacked and possessed by a
voodoo spirit. Later in treatment, she spontaneously reported an
episode of “alien abduction” during which her “soul” (actually either
subtle physical or inner vital in IYP terms) was lifted up into a UFO
and experimented upon. Notably, she described this frightening event in
purely supra-physical terms, probably because her cultural acceptance
of voodoo spirits allowed her not to translate this powerful subtle
experience into solely physical terms, as many contemporary
Euro-Americans are prone to do because they lack non-materialist
explanatory models. Basu recently presented a paper on IYP’s approach
to possession and psychosis at the World Psychiatric Congress, with
compelling case studies (Basu, 2004).
Finally, transpersonal clinicians need not disparage synthetic
psychotropic medications, because they are useful treatment tools and
are backed by the rational methodology of science, which is itself a
considerable progressive force put forward by the Divine to aid in the
evolution of consciousness on earth. Nonetheless, there is hope that
ongoing work with flower remedies (as in Bach and other flower
essences) based on the Mother’s extensive insights into the
psycho-spiritual qualities of flowers (Mother, 2000), will lead
eventually to reliable supra-rational methods of psychopharmacology to
complement rational ones (Vandana, 1998; Miovic, 2003, pp. 133-160;
Basu, personal communication, 2004)
This article has presented an overview of Sri Aurobindo’s cosmology of
consciousness and Integral Yoga Psychology (IYP). Because the scope of
IYP is vast, this essay has compressed many topics into a short space
in order to show how IYP interprets the central relationships among
metaphysics, transpersonal psychology, and clinical practice. In
summary, IYP agrees with the general model of transpersonal psychology
and psychiatry, but would expand and refine current understandings in a
few areas. The most important of these are distinguishing between
spiritual liberation and transformation; recognizing the existence and
function of the psychic being; differentiating the parts of the inner
being and various overhead planes of consciousness; and holding open
the possibility of a supramental evolution of life in the future.
Clinically, IYP offers novel approaches to avoiding spiritual
“emergencies,” dealing with past-life memories, distinguishing between
the subliminal being and the subconscious, and conceptualizing cases of
hostile influence and possession.
[TABLE 1 ATTACHED]
This article appears in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2005,
Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 111-133. Copyright belongs to the JTP.
Table 1. The Inner Being
(based on Aurobindo, 1970a, pp. 328-9, 334-8, 364-77)
- Chakra Sahasradala Thousand-petalled lotus; top of head; blue with gold light
- Ajna Forehead; two petals; white
- Throat region; sixteen petals; grey
- Hrtpadma or Anahata Sternal region; twelve petals; golden pink
- Chaitya purusha, not a chakra per se and not emphasized in older yogas]
- Nabhipadma or Manipura Region from heart to navel; ten petals, violet
- Svadhisthana Between the navel and base of spine; six petals; deep purple red
- Muladhara Base of spine; four petals; red
Sri Aurobindo’s Description
- Higher Mind,
- Illumined Mind: Commands the higher thinking mind (buddhi) and the
illumined mind, and opens upwards towards the intuitive mind and
- Dynamic Mind: Commands thought, will, vision, inner mental formation. “Third eye.”
- Externalizing Mind: Commands expression and externalization of all
mental movements and forces; also called physical mind when it gives a
mental order to external things and deals with them practically.
Different from other gradations of consciousness associated with the
face, neck, throat, and upper sternal
region that have no specific chakra:
- Mechanical Mind (Mental Physical): Repeats customary ideas and habits endlessly, strong in childhood.
- Vital Mind: Involved primarily in dreaming, imagining, planning for
the future (e.g., fantasies of greatness, happiness, wealth, fame,
- Mental Vital: Gives mental expression to vital movements such as
emotion, desire, passion, and nervous sensations. Through this avenue
vital movements can rise up and cloud or distort reasoning (e.g.,
- Emotional Mind and Higher Vita: : Perceived as more external; seat of
various feelings, such as love, joy, sorrow, hatred, affection, etc.
The “heart” chakra.
- Inner Heart (Psychic Being): Perceived as deep inside center of
chest; the evolving soul that grows from life to life and is the seat
of true individual identity.
- Central Vital: Seat of the stronger vital longings and reactions,
e.g., ambition, pride, fear, love of fame, attractions and repulsions,
desires and passions,
life-forces and life-energies.
- Lower Vital: Connects all centers above with the physical
consciousness below, and is concerned with small desires, such as for
food and sex, as well as small likings and dislikings, such as vanity,
quarrels, love of praise, anger at blame, little wishes.
- Physical Consciousness: Governs the physical being down to the
subconscious. The physical, when not transformed, is prone to inertia,
ignorance, repetition of habits, slowness, resistance to spiritual
consciousness. The subconscious has no organized chakra, but arises
from below the feet.
Aurobindo, S. (1999). The mother. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust: 1-14.
Aurobindo, S. (1972a). The teaching of Sri Aurobindo. In: Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library (Vol. 26, pp. 95-97). Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
Aurobindo, S. (1970a). Letters on yoga. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
Aurobindo, S. (1970b). The life divine. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
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