Introduction to The Seven Quartets of Becoming

 

Sri Aurobindo c. 1910

Sri Aurobindo c. 1910

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SEVEN QUARTETS OF BECOMING

INTRODUCTION

 

I

Sri Aurobindo grew up in England, where he came to know very little about India or things Indian. After his schooling, he took to the study of Classics at Cambridge University, where he encountered the Sanskrit literary tradition. He returned to India in 1893 and joined the services of the ruler of Baroda where he worked in administrative positions and as a teacher at the Baroda College. There he also consolidated his knowledge of Sanskrit, learnt a number of spoken Indian languages and plunged into the fledgling movement against British colonialism, becoming one of the first to declare complete political independence as India’s goal. In 1905, he left Baroda to come to the forefront of the struggle for freedom, becoming one of the initiators of what has been called the swadeshi movement in Calcutta, the then British capital in India. It is here that he came across an instance of the exercise of paranormal power that opened his mind to the potential of yoga to affect phenomena beyond normal means. He described this event thus: “I first knew about yogic cure from a Naga Sadhu or Naga Sannyasi. Barin had mountain fever when he was wandering in the Amarkantak hills. The Sannyasi took a cup of water, cut it into four by making two crosses with a knife and asked Barin to drink it, saying, ‘He won’t have fever tomorrow.’ And the fever left him”.

 

An Incalculabe Yoga

Barin was Sri Aurobindo’s younger brother and a collaborator in his anti-colonial efforts, as a leader of terrorist activities. He knew a yogi and when Sri Aurobindo expressed his interest in yoga as a means to acquire power to liberate the nation, he introduced Sri Aurobindo to this yogi, a Maharashtran by the name of Vishnu Bhaskar Lele. They met in Baroda in 1908 and Lele taught Sri Aurobindo meditation as a first step to quiet his mind. The result of this meditation was profound beyond the expectation of both Lele and Sri Aurobindo, as it brought him the realization of the unreality of the phenomenal world, complete cessation of thoughts, and the perception of an intangible Permanence backgrounding all things. This realization of Nirvana or what Sri Aurobindo would later call “the passive Brahman” became from then the basis of Sri Aurobindo’s life experience, a condition in which he received intuitions, perceptions, directives (adesha) and further experiences leading him through the steps of what he called “an incalculable yoga” and which he later formalized under the name “Integral Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo’s political activity continued through all this, and later that year (1908) he was incarcerated along with Barin and other revolutionaries on grounds of “waging war against the king.” The imprisonment lasted for a year during which Sri Aurobindo’s yogic activities intensified and a number of other spiritual realizations came to him. These can be summarized as: (1) the realization of what he would call “the active Brahman,” a conscious energy formulating itself into all objects and entities in the universe and at work in them; (2) the realization of a Person aspect to indivisible Reality (Vasudeva, Sri Krishna), present as the essence of all things and in blissful relation with him (lila); (3) a hierarchy of impersonal planes or ranges of mind above the normal human mind, leading to a Cosmic Mind (Overmind) and a transcendental Origin of Knowledge (Supermind) of which our universe is a manifestation as a form of Idea (Real-Idea).

The Seven Quartets

After his release from the prison, he spent another year in Calcutta continuing his political activity but departed successively to the French colonies of Chandernagore and Pondicherry, following inner directives (adeshas). In April 1910, he settled in the South Indian seaside town of Pondicherry, never to leave this city for the rest of his embodied life. Sometime in the early years of his settlement in Pondicherry (perhaps between 1911-1912), Sri Aurobindo received a systematic program of yoga made up of seven disciplinary components, each with four goals or “perfections”(siddhis). He referred to this program as Sapta Chatusthaya (Seven Quartets) and began organizing his experience to himself in terms of this disciplinary structure from 1912, recording his practices and experiences along these lines in diaries or notebooks, which he titled “Record of Yoga.” In November 1913, he noted down this scheme of the seven quartets on some loose sheets and began elaborating on them, a process which remained incomplete.

He may have also lectured on these quartets to the small group of disciples who stayed with him in these early years. From a number of disciples’ notebooks, we find transcripts of “scribal notes” on these quartets, which are invaluable in filling the gaps and providing a closer view of what he may have meant by the distinctions he drew. From 1914 to 1920, while continuing with relative regularity his diary entries, he also wrote articles for the journal Arya, within which all his major writings were serialized. Among these articles was his series elaborating his teaching of yoga, which is now available as The Synthesis of Yoga. This text also amplifies the teachings of the quartets and often provides a clearer key for understanding some of its obscurities.

I have drawn on all these and a few other sources to present the description carried in this book. While such a presentation could be taken as a window into the life of an extraordinary individual practicing an exotic discipline about a hundred years ago, I believe the intent with which these practices were undertaken should not be lost sight of in reference to human subjectivity in its present hour of world civilization. Sri Aurobindo embarked upon the path of yoga as the revolutionary impulse of a modern subject at the cusp of 20th c. modernity, marked by colonialism. Colonialism is politically no more with us, but the imprisoning forces of modernity are all around us, colonialism continues to haunt developing and underdeveloped nations socially, economically and culturally, while neo-liberal globalization anonymizes humanity across the world, populating planetary cities with complacent quasi-androids in programmed eagerness to consume packaged lifestyles coded for degrees of happiness. The gift of fire with which humanity began its ascent into self-consciousness today burns no more in human hands, but fuels huge impersonal circulations of capital to which humanity remains imprisoned. What the seven quartets of Sri Aurobindo represents in this situation is no less than the second birth of fire, the fire of conscious evolution, the primal tool for the emergence of the infinite or plural Subject out of its subjection to the shredding and pulverizing of attention and quality that marks our times.

Revolutionary Impulse

1910, when Sri Aurobindo moved to Pondicherry, can be thought of as a watershed year. The revolutionary breakthroughs in science, industry and culture which characterized the turn of the 19th/20th century in Europe, were poised to inundate the world with a new chapter of civilization, leading into our present times. What has been called the second Industrial Revolution, inaugurating the age of electricity, mass production and the world market was gathering to unleash its global regime, one whose material and psychological effects are fully manifest today. Invasive technologies would integrate the human individual into circuits of braided global information where subjectivity would be determined, fragmented and commodified, with little freedom of interiority, a behaviorism at the service of the nation state and the world market. At the still center of this preparing epistemic storm, or perhaps the lull before its inexorable world action, we find Sri Aurobindo in a remote sheltered town in South India, surrounded by a handful of disciples and freedom fighters, searching for a wholeness of subjectivity with which to measure himself against the cosmos. Detached from the forces of the world, a luxury hardly available to anyone in today’s surveilled and engineered psycho-sphere, he prepared the technologies of attention and mobilized consciousness which became the basis of his own transformation and his teaching. One may see the same revolutionary impulse that drove him to yoke his will to an anti-colonial struggle at work here to free humankind from dependence and subjection, not merely to an alien nation, but to the bondage, limitations and maladies of his own nature, a teleology of the Machine reversed and countered by a power of creative consciousness aiming at a perfected life. Sri Aurobindo’s experiments in introspection and applied psychology were conducted with the rigor of science, using a methodical framework which was synthetic and integral. This is what he called the Seven Quartets, which are being presented here. He left his conclusions for the future, that humankind may learn to utilize, even in the midst of his subjection to the ubiquitous forces of the world, its affirmative disciplines towards freedom, wholeness, universal Personhood, knowledge of oneness, creative power of a complex harmony and capacity to endure and enjoy all experiences as forms of bliss.

 

II

Psychology and its Alter-disciplines

Sri Aurobindo thought of these disciplines and experiments as a subjective science and a practical psychology. In the Synthesis of Yoga, he asserted, “All yoga is nothing but practical psychology.” The modern academic discipline of psychology can be said to have its beginnings in the 19th c., partly as the Enlightenment’s “pure” seeking for total knowledge and partly with the “applied” goal of finding a solution to human pathologies. As Michel Foucault has brought out, underlying both these aims were the modern goals of social ordering, a drive to classify and discipline human populations, establish bounds for productive use, and devise systems of containment, punishment and “cure” for those who fell outside rational and manageable bounds. The experimental and empirical structuralism of Wilhelm Wundt, the biologism of Ivan Pavlov, models of conscious-unconscious interchange as with Sigmund Freud and post-Freudian psychoanalysis, the behaviorism of John Watson and other American psychologists of the early 20th c, such as B. F. Skinner, could all be classed in these categories.

But an alternate genealogy can be traced which is more intimately related to philosophical inquiry into the nature of human transcendence. With its 19th c. roots in thinkers such as William James, who challenged the structuralism of Wundt and delved into the psychology of religious experience, this lineage re-emerged around the mid-20th c. in the USA through such movements as humanistic and existential psychology, based in European philosophical trends such as intersubjectivity, phenomenology and ontology. Instead of empirical foundations in conditioned or pathological behavior, Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, proposed a study of human role models, positing a hierarchy of needs as part of an ascending scale of human potential, guided by a drive for self-actualization. Probing phenomena of transcendence, Maslow theorized the category and properties of “peak experiences” and, in collaboration with others, opened up the new field of transpersonal psychology in the 1960s. Transpersonal psychology, as the name suggests, takes the human person as a site for transitional and fuzzy processes of consciousness between a recognizable socialized ego and an undefined and impersonal transcendental destination.

From another direction, the researches of Carl Gustav Jung in memories, dreams and paranormal experiences helped to open up the field of parapsychology, as well as studies in archetypal symbolism based on the possibilities of existence of extra-personal or impersonal ranges of consciousness, that Jung defined as the “collective unconscious.” Jung’s work on the transformative processes of “individuation” also prepared and converged with that of humanistic and transpersonal psychology. The opening made by approaches such as Jungian psychology, transpersonal psychology and parapsychology, have allowed a number of newer sub-domains of theory and research to find their niches within the academic edifice. Some of these, of relevance in trying to contextualize the present work based on Sri Aurobindo’s experiments, are transformational psychology, spiritual psychology, yoga psychology and integral psychology.

Yoga Psychology and the Integral Movement

Most of these fledgling and specialized fields have not gathered sufficient cultural capital to claim universal acceptance in the modern academy and are construed with differing scopes and boundaries by their followers. The terms spiritual psychology and transformational psychology, for example, are often used as synonyms for transpersonal psychology. More properly, spiritual psychology is often concerned with the exploration of experiences and transformations in existing world traditions of spiritual practice, whereas transpersonal psychology usually aims at a “pure” or “neutral” vocabulary of classifications and distinctions, distancing itself from specific religious traditions. Transformational psychology is often seen as a sub-field of developmental, humanistic, transpersonal or Jungian psychology, dealing with the transformative processes of self-actualization, individuation or altered functioning of the nature following upon ontological changes. Yogic psychology may also be seen as a subset of transpersonal or spiritual psychology, in this case, as the name suggests, specifically developed around the language of the psycho-physical anatomy of yoga, along with the practices and experiences connected with it.

The term integral psychology has a varied provenance. It seems to have been coined by Indra Sen, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, who thereby attempted to open a field of specialized and comparative study into the psychological theory and process of the integral yoga, as taught by Sri Aurobindo. In more modern times, “integralism” has seen some dubious appropriations, for example, through the copyrighting of the term “integral yoga” by the guru Swami Satchidananda. Haridas Chaudhuri, also a follower of Sri Aurobindo, and the founder of the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco used the terms “integralism” and “integral philosophy” in ways that may be seen as derived from Sri Aurobindo. In more recent times, the self-styled psychologist Ken Wilber has given prominence to the term “integral” and “integral psychology” to describe his theoretical “integration” of the mind-brain paradigm of consciousness. One needs to be careful to distinguish the differing genealogies and uses of the term “integral” in all these cases, if one is to position Sri Aurobindo properly as the proponent of an “integral psychology.”

Swami Satchidananda’s “integral yoga,” for example, is little more than an “addition” of a few different approaches of yoga, claiming to address the entire human personality and engage it in the practices of prescribed and traditional yoga disciplines. In contrast, Sri Aurobino’s “integral yoga” is the seeking for a consciousness that is integral, an ontology of wholeness which overcomes the alienated discontinuity of human existence. Moreover, it is a creative and experimental phenomenology of attention and aspiration, leading to a transformation in one’s sources of knowledge, power and order; it is not a set of prescriptions. In this regard, it may be interesting to contrast the post-1960 wave of interest in yoga with that represented by such figures as Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and others following in their wake in the first half of the 20th c. A transcontinental discourse of resistance to the objectification, fragmentation and functional exploitation of consciousness under the oncoming rush of modern capital converged on this term as a locus for creative technologies of the self subjectively related and identified with the cosmos. But by the 1960s, the regime of modernity whose nomos is seduction had infiltrated the subjective world to the extent that yoga found itself no longer a discourse of freedom and wholeness, but was compelled to speak with a forked tongue, either to the concerns of escape (the hippies) or to the eminently marketable interests of stress management (meditation), the body beautiful (hatha yoga) or the art of sexual ecstasy (tantra). The guru industry proliferated and continues to expand with a plethora of techniques each patented to guarantee “success” in accumulating cultural capital in the monocultural world of neo-liberal globalization.

From the 1980s, in addition to (and somewhat against) these transcodings within modernity, Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) has increasingly tried to claim yoga as its badge of identity in national ownership and antiquity projects. Though Sri Aurobindo participated in an anti-colonial struggle for the independence of the nation, his activism was undertaken for cultural freedom not cultural fascism. He expected that the liberated individual within the free nation would be able to draw creatively on the accumulated intersubjectivity of a national history and engage dialogically with modernity and indigeneity from this vantage; not be imprisoned by a new collective subjection in the name of the nation. At a time nearer to Sri Aurobindo’s, Aldous Huxley in works such as Brave New World and Island and in our present times, thinkers like Slavoj Zizek, have spelt out this inevitable assimilation of “eastern” subjective technologies by fascist states or by the desiring machine of world capital. “Yoga psychology” in this context, is often little other than a legitimization of one or other of these packaged commodities. While sharing certain assumptions and a general psycho-physical vocabulary pertaining to subjective experience and the operations and relations of consciousness, the “yoga psychology” implied by the Seven Quartets does not privilege any techniques, formulae or rituals and steers clear of the lures of cultural capital and identity politics. What it offers instead is a field of creative practice based on forms of attention, volition and affect.

Haridas Chaudhuri can be thought of as a founder of a theoretical philosophy of integralism. There are certain other important thinkers of Chaudhuri’s era of 1950-70 such as the Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin and the Swiss philosopher Jean Gebser, who can be thought of as “integral thinkers” in the phenomenological tradition of Chaudhuri, one which belongs more closely to the scope and intent of Sri Aurobindo. The reductive developmental and systems thinking of Wilber, responsible for the contemporary popularity of the “integral” paradigm, whether in philosophy, psychology, health, culture, business management or the environment, calls itself “post-metaphysical,” but is little other than a structuralist typology, with its problematic hierarchy of states and stages of human achievement, and subject to the error of all mental attempts to grasp totality, which cannot but suffer reification if represented . The use of the term “integral’ in Sri Aurobindo’s own texts pertains instead to an ontology of experience contingent on the silence of the mind, not a theoretical construct, and encompasses a complex oneness of being omnipresent in each of its elements. As such, it is better compared to the idea of the “plane of consistency” (or plane of immanence) theorized by the post-structuralist thinker Gilles Deleuze, as a latency of infinite possibility of experience.

Experimental Psychologies

The Seven Quartets as a “practical psychology,” partakes of a number of these disciplinary formations. Backgrounded by the psycho-physical assumptions of yoga, it is undoubtedly a yoga psychology. However, whereas the field of yoga psychology is mostly concerned with an epistemology of psycho-physical consciousness and their processes and experiences contingent on practice, the Seven Quartets is a transformational yoga psychology, dealing with progressive and permanent changes in the operations of human nature through experimental practice. The relation between system and experiment in the seven quartets and the record of yoga is particularly significant. Whereas all science could be said to establish or verify its systemic assumptions through experiment, and all yogas, as “practical psychologies” may be thought of as systemic blueprints related to prescriptive and introspective practice by the subject, a process involving some degree of experiment, the integral yoga implied by the seven quartets can be thought of as experimental in a more radical sense. Free of specific prescribed objective practices, the system of the seven quartets depends on the relationship between human agency expressing through attention, perception, volition, affect and skill and the unpredictable circumstances of life, seen as the movements of a transcendental field of conscious Immanence in which one’s own subjectivity is inextricably involved (or “folded” to use a term from phenomenology). Such a relationship is dependent from the start (and throughout) on the progressive development of a dynamic intuition of the system manifesting itself through processes of creative experimentation.

The Seven Quartets, in their goals of a transformation of consciousness, implying cosmic potency, encompasses several functions which may be called paranormal and hence, can be said to overlap with parapsychology. At least from the mid-19th c., the progress of science in Europe was accompanied by a burgeoning underworld of occult sects and cults, the resurfacing of a plethora of modern versions of medieval mystery schools. Perhaps the most influential of these, with varied traces continuing into the present, was the Theosophical Society, an organization for the study of occultism founded in 1875 by H. P. Blavatsky and her followers. Theosophy attempted to bestow a semblance of scientific authenticity to the study of paranormal phenomena, though an aura of magic and a rumor of charlatanism plagued its existence. In the thick of such activities, an organization calling itself The Society for Psychical Research, with the goal of serious scientific investigations of such phenomena, was founded in 1882 by Frederic William Henry Myers and others. This research organization (which continues to operate), counted among its members such eminent names as Henry Sidgwick, Frederick Myers, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Alfred Russel Wallace, W. B. Yeats, Arthur Conan Doyle, C. G. Jung and William James. More recent members include Archie Roy, Rupert Sheldrake, Richard Wiseman, Susan Blackmore, Dean Radin and Charles Tart. Partly due to the influence of this society and its members, parapsychology as an academic discipline gained some acceptance in the western knowledge academy, most prominently in the 1970s. It concerned itself with psychic abilities (extra sensory perception, remote sensing, telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis), near-death experiences, out-of-body experience, crisis apparitions, retro-cognitions, reincarnation memories, regression memories, prophecy, channeling and mediumistic activities, apparitional experiences, life after death and such phenomena. The academic respectability of this field was short lived and much fewer institutions of higher learning continue to actively promote study and research in this area today.

The parapsychological experiences dealt with in the Seven Quartets have to do mainly with extra sensory perception, remote influence and paranormal capacities of the body. In his diary notes, Sri Aurobindo has a long passage discussing the legitimacy of these powers in a spiritual pursuit, concluding by justifying them as natural capacities to an enhanced human (or trans-human) consciousness.

Again, the system presented by the Seven Quartets is undoubtedly an integral psychology, following on the definition of Indra Sen and contingent on the distinctions introduced in the previous paragraph, the scope of integrality here arising from the ontological attainment of an “integral consciousness” in being and the transformation of the nature in the becoming based on it. As to whether it is a transpersonal psychology, certainly the status of the egoic person is seen as transitional within it, but this does not necessarily imply the disappearance of the person in an impersonality. Perhaps the term trans-egoic would serve it better than transpersonal. Finally, though Sri Aurobindo did not use the term “collective consciousness,” the Seven Quartets assume the existence of extra-personal “planes” of cosmic consciousness, with which the individual can identify in being and consciousness. I would say, this too is an aspect of yoga psychology, which Jungian theory has helped to normalize in the modern academy, though here again, ideas such as that of Deleuze’s “fold” or “plane of consistency,” may be more appropriate, because related to experience, beyond the finite boundaries of mental representation.

 

III

Post-metaphysical Philosophies

In thinking about alternate psychologies, it is important to constellate these with a post-metaphysical tradition of philosophy which may be said to begin with Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) in the late 19th c. At the outset of an approaching global era of contested ideologies of belief, Nietzsche concerned himself with the relative question of truth and its political establishment in human history. Acknowledging the Kantian inaccessibility of transcendentals such as truth or god to human reason, Nietzsche showed how arbitrary genealogical histories led through operations of power to the privileging of certain ideologies. He brought the entire metaphysical tradition of post-Aristotelian philosophy under scrutiny on these grounds, seeing its attempt at establishing rational epistemologies as a surreptitious operation of the will to power in its bid to order the inchoate and indefinable infinity of existence. Though ironically, Nietzsche was appropriated by the ultra-irrational racist ideology of the Nazis, it is the fascist implications of idealist metaphysics which Nietzsche radically critiqued, its totalitarian drive to subjugate experience and will under a transcendentally determined regime. He saw scientism, the product of the European Enlightenment, among the most dangerous of these historical and cultural regimes, an equating of human and cosmos through the defining bo(u)nds of reason, and the ideological yoking of humanity to the global enterprise of ordering all experience and all reality by an omniscient epistemology. Nietzsche identified the quintessential (late) philosopher of the Enlightenment as G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), who saw the impending modern reign of Reason (Logos) arising from Europe as the fulfillment of cosmic purpose and the end of history; and accordingly posited a philosophy of History which left no stone unturned in its subsumption of the past, present and future of the world. As against this vision of the inexorable predetermined progress of the Zeitgeist, Nietzsche looked to non-western outlooks and presented the prophet Zarathustra, with his doctrine of the incalculable creative power of Will over every determining cosmic regime. Rather than define man and cosmos in terms of the Reason, Nietzsche displaced this power onto the Will, and posited the Will to Power as the most fundamental principle of Life, one which attempted to assert itself everywhere and in every way through political dominance but whose highest potency was creative self-transcendence, the vision of the cosmic human or Ubermensch.

The two most important modern streams of psychological philosophy which followed in the wake of Nietzsche and established themselves in the academy through the first half of the 20th c. are phenomenology and existentialism. Phenomenology was given its present form by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). It proposed a method in which independent objectivity was “bracketed” in favor of grounding attention on the analysis of experience. Thus the world that is given to us in experience was unraveled in its constitution, so as to reveal the conventions which structure the collective life-world, binding consciousness to it through intention. This unraveling enabled a purity and freedom of experience which Husserl referred to variously as a transcendental subjectivism or a transcendental ego. A landmark and controversial figure who stood historically between Husserl and Nietzsche on one side (the past) and the gamut of postmodern philosophy on the other (the present) is Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). Heidegger provided an ontological turn to the psychologism of Husserl, and concerned himself more centrally with the relation between Being and beings (or the ontological and the ontic), thus hazing the Husserlian boundaries of the “transcendental ego,” while holding fast to phenomenology in its refusal of idealist metaphysics. Opening further the approach initiated by phenomenology, Heidegger may also be considered one of the modern founders of existentialism, in his development of the conditions for authenticity of existence and self-transcendence through the radically receptive orientation of attention, will and affect.

Postmodernism

A furthering engagement with Nietzsche, Husserl and Heidegger were in evidence in the more contemporary Francophone line of postmodern philosophy, particularly the thinking of Michel Foucault (1926-1984) and Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). Both these philosophers refused metaphysics and ontology, thinking instead of the ways by which human experience is constructed at any time by historicist ideologies. While Derrida may be thought to cleave more closely to Husserl and Heidegger in his attention to unraveling the constructed nature of experience (deconstruction), he was less interested in arriving at the purity of a transcendental ego than in the creative play of signification and the openness to singularity and transcendental possibility (l’avenir, the democracy to come). Foucault’s approach to a similar problematic can be traced more directly to Nietzsche and secondarily to Heidegger. Applying Nietzsche, Foucault sought to ground epistemology historically in the operations and mechanisms of power by which a temporal horizon becomes ontologically settled. By using the Nietzschean methods of archeology and genealogy, he sought out the synchronic and diachronic bases for the political construction of truth for a culture at any given time. Towards the end of his life, Foucault turned his attention from the technologies of power or the will to power as technology to the technologies of the self. These subjective technologies or technologies of subject-formation or subjectivation, in Foucault’s account taken from ancient Greece, included practices for the care or discovery of the soul, an ethics and aesthetics of the self through truth telling and self-disciplines of attention (askesis). The exteriorization of these practices into socially monitored forms through confessional methods, initiated through rituals such as Christian confession in 4th  c. Rome, but mutating through history into the interrogations of modern disciplinary institutions such as schools, clinics, government offices, police stations and prisons, have increasingly offered the nexus for technologies of power to discipline and order subjects ideologically.

Heidegger, Derrida and Foucault all turned a good part of their attention to the unprecedented nature of modernity, the post-Enlightenment epoch in which we find ourselves. All three of them identified the epistemic regime of our times as the turn towards technology or in Nietzschean terms, the will to power as technology. Heidegger noted the systemic and totalistic nature of modernity, setting out to claim all knowledge, all time and all space for its domain in the name of science, in what he called “the age of the world picture.” This setting forth of the ongoing activity of research, the disappearance of the individual into the anonymity of the subjectum and the conversion of the world into “picture,” a single representational image, marks the modern disclosure of Being, its qualitative reduction to numerical magnitude and relation. Foucault further developed the discursive and institutional mechanisms and procedures through which modern individuals are anonymized into subjects, the role of the human sciences as a cornerstone of the universal modern academy and of the pan-optical state technologies of surveillance and discipline to set in place the replicable image of “humanity.” As against this ubiquitous construction of world and subject, Foucault called for the reclamation of subjectivation in individuals, an ethics and aesthetics of the self, through counter-technologies such as truth-telling and “care of the soul.”

The Deleuzian Century

Apart from these thinkers, there are a number of others who have followed this train of thinking, continuing to elaborate the consequences of our age in its varied and ongoing aspects in a phenomenological vein. Among the contemporaries of Derrida and Foucault and part of the same Francophone tradition of postmodern philosophy, one may enumerate Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995), Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-1998), Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) and Michel de Certeau (1925-1986). Belonging to a later generation and continuing to elaborate on the chapter of global modernity belonging to our present times, particularly its sense of historic rupture, its mnemo-technical and virtual ontology, and its alternative possibilities, some of the most prominent thinkers are the theorist of feminine subjectivity Luce Irigaray (1932-), Paul Virilio (1932-) and Bernard Stiegler (1952-). Of these thinkers, in the context of our study, special mention needs to be made of Gilles Deleuze, who also counted Nietzsche among his forbears, but constellated his lineage of thinking with two other philosophers of the past, Enlightenment philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) and the philosopher of intuition and creative evolution, Henri Bergson (1859-1941). Deleuze, a friend of Foucault, of whom the latter said, “One day, perhaps, this century will be called Deleuzian,” did not, like Foucault or Derrida, reject metaphysics or ontology, but inverted them, subordinating them to experience.

Following Spinoza, Deleuze rooted ontology in an absolute Immanence, which was knowable only as process, an univocity expressing as the radical difference and plurality of the cosmos. This field of Immanence (sometimes called field of Consistency) was conceived by Deleuze as the infinite substratum of all existence and experience, marked by the infinitely varying intensities of unpredictable flows and energies, each a sensation, idea and/or feeling existing as virtual becoming or problematic, actualizing itself repeatedly in different forms. It is important to note that Deleuzian ideas differ from Platonic ideas in their immanence and Deleuzian virtuality is no less real than actuality. Of his concepts, Deleuze says, “The concept they [the conditions of experience] form is identical to its object.” The task of the philosopher, for Deleuze, is to intuit these fields of virtual problematics from experience and express them in the form of concepts; just as the task of the artist is to express the being of sensations, which are a compound of percepts and affects; and the task of the scientist is to express through generative functions based on fixed points of reference.

Deleuze engages himself with the problematic of how one can live one’s life and proposes an extension of experiencing capacity so as to become aware of the virtual field of intensities, ideas and feelings which constitute the extensive or discrete differences of the actual world. This extension in body sensation, emotion and intuition so as to experience the virtual domain consists of an overcoming of the categories of identity, resemblance, analogy and opposition that characterize our experience of actuality and arrive through this abstraction at the experience of a scale of intensities. Deleuze and his collaborator Guattari, refer to this transformation as “making a Body without Organs” (BwO). It is only through such a transformation that the body’s independent agency may be recovered and the question “Of what is a body capable?” posed by Spinoza, find its dynamic answer through experience and action. The Body without Organs can then be thought of as a gate of entry to yet greater extensions of experience approximating progressively to the infinite plane of Immanence, marked by a simultaneity of univocity and difference, in which neither is reduced to the other. One may see in this account, a resemblance of Deleuze and Guattari’s method with that of Husserl’s phenomenological reduction, but whereas Husserl’s phenomenology deals with concepts and percepts and is grounded in mental perception, the Deleuzian construction of the Body without Organs deals with sensations, percepts, affects and concepts and is grounded in physical experience. While it is true that Husserl’s phenomenology has been extended to include the embodied component of perception by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the grounding of experience in intensities of sensation grants to Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism a much greater integrality and an experimental method akin to yoga.

Deleuze’s ontology also bears comparison with Sri Aurobindo’s in terms of the way in which he conceptualizes the individual and its fractal “folding” into the cosmos. Deleuze introduced the idea of the fold to theorize the integral relationship between the “inside” and the “outside” of living beings. Instead of seeing beings as autonomous, he views the collective reality of each type of being as a life on a fold of pure immanence. Such an “enfolded” existence implies an internalization by each “monad” of the cosmic entirety following specific principles which characterize the ontology of its type of experience. Subject and cosmos thus integrally exist in each other and the nexus of internal and external forces determines the universal reality of cosmos for the subject. The conscious awareness of this relationship between internal and external forces is the “unfold,” something which also makes possible an “unfolding” and  “refolding.” Existing unquestionably on a fold marks the existence of non-human beings, but humans are characterized by critical and creative subjectivity which allows them to “deterritorialize” the fixity of the relation between subject and fold. Deleuze and Guattari refer to this variously as “nomadology,” “lines of flight,” “becoming-other” and “making a body without organs.”

In the appendix of his book on Foucault, Deleuze relates Foucault’s prediction of the erasure of the human with Nietzsche’s supeman-making project and his own thinking about the fold. Making it an occasion to think of the future of human subjectivity, he develops here the idea of the superfold, as the fractal ground natural to superman. The superfold is neither a fold nor an unfolding in the sense in which Deleuze conceptualized internal-external relations in the human case. It is instead an ontology of immanence with a protean creativity capable of an “unlimited finite.” Superman represents the forces of subjective interiority which internalize the capacities of the superfold and give it monadic expression. Deleuze’s intuition of the superfold as the ontological future towards which the human moves is also related to the emergence of the technologies of molecular biology, silicon based information theory and new capacities of language use. All these technologies portend possibilities of deconstruction and creative reassemblage which approach the most basic building blocks of life (genetics), matter (information), and mind (signification/language).

An “unlimited finite” is a capacity characteristic of the fulfilled potency of what Deleuze calls transcendental empiricism, which could also be nominated as a divine materialism. It implies that every fine point in space and “moment” of time is a creative actualization of infinity. Superfold is the cosmic medium potent with such a possibility and superman is the individualized subjectivity which can express this capacity as its native mode of existence. Superfold contains the triple folds of genetic handling (life capacity), silicon and nanotechnological handling (material capacity) and  language handling (mental capacity). Superman for Deleuze, then, is the master of the triple folds of gene, silicon and language, the creative consciousness which can manipulate these forms of nature at its most basic level, manifesting infinity through their finite conditions of space-time expression. There is no habitual fixity to such a form of creative consciousness, or even if there is persistence of forms or logical development of forms, the ontology is one of pure freedom and the deployed will of omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience at play in the finite conditions of the cosmos.

Though expressed in material terms and related to contemporary technologies of unprecedented fundamental ubiquity, Deleuze’s superfold can well be thought of as close or analogous to an immanent version of Sri Aurobindo’s supermind, the medium which holds unity and infinity as its conscious properties everywhere and is the nexus between the infinite and the finite in its absolute immanence. So too, the relation between superfold and superman in Deleuze is analogous to the relation between supermind and superman in Sri Aurobindo, in that the latter term in each doublet represents the subject with interiority proper to the being and full creative expression of the capacities of the first term.

Interlocutors

Sri Aurobindo was roughly a contemporary of Heidegger and his generation of thinkers. He was familiar with Nietzsche and referred to him in a number of his writings, praising him for his existential turn as a philosopher of thought-in-life rather than of detached thought. He also, for this reason, turned his attention to the Pre-Socratic thinkers of Greece, much as Heidegger and Nietzsche before him, had done. Most significantly, like Nietzsche, he proposed a self-exceeding for the human, a re-creation through askesis and surrender, and gave to this destining the Nietzschean name of superman. One may see the derivation of superman from the transcendental consciousness of supermind, yet the Nietzschean parallel is not fortuitous. Writing within the discursive academic culture of Indian Philosophy of the early 20th c., Sri Aurobindo had to voice his philosophical ideas in terms of idealist metaphysics. As cross-cultural expression one needs to read this as darshan, an epistemology arising from and necessarily coupled with a theory of practice, yoga. But entering the language community of modern specialized disciplines, it undergoes a discursive rupture and is perceived independently. In his major philosophical work, The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo tried to safeguard against this conversion, pointing to the Vedantic methodology of intuition and experience as its basis (Vedantic Methods of Knowledge) and attempting to reformulate the boundaries of Idealism:

The idealistic interpretation supposes a relation between the Truth behind and the conceptive phenomenon in front, a relation which is not merely that of an antinomy and opposition. The view I am presenting goes farther in idealism; it sees the creative Idea as Real-Idea, that is to say, a power of Conscious Force expressive of real being, born out of real being and partaking of its nature and neither a child of the Void nor a weaver of fictions.[1]

Elsewhere in the same text, he uses the term experience-concept[2] to differentiate his thought from abstract thinking. The similarity between this and Deleuze’s notion of the concept should be apparent. There are many other points of convergence between the thought of Deleuze and Sri Aurobindo’s theory of practice – Deleuze’s Plane of Consistency is defined in terms not far from Sri Aurobindo’s Supermind, an absolute consciousness characterized by irreducible and radical univocity and infinity, Deleuze’s building of the Body without Organs is analogous to processes of liberation from “given” internal formations, including the physical, in Sri Aurobindo; Deleuze’s call to experimentation is seconded by the personalization of practice based on the emergence of consciousness by Sri Aurobindo; Deleuze’s “scale of intensities” can be seen as synonymous with the conversion of all experience to forms of bliss in Sri Aurobindo.

Convergences of Sri Aurobindo’s thought with other postmodern thinkers are also significant. Sri Aurobindo’s political and cultural sensitivity to the forces of colonialism and modernity bring his practices in alignment with those of Michel Foucault. This establishes the contemporary relevance of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga in terms of affording technologies of the self for autonomy and subjectivation of the individual and the ability to exert a transformative influence on determining regimes of global discourse in the micropolitics of power. In this regard, it is noteworthy that where Martin Heidegger, in spite of his clarity regarding the omnipresent technological power of the age of the world picture and his warnings for the authenticity of individual life, was taken in by the subjective rhetoric of the Fuhrer of the Third Reich, Sri Aurobindo, in his distant corner of the world identified the civilizational menace of Hitler, as early as 1933, when he had just become Chancellor. He also used the enhanced powers of the self in opposing this menace. The Record of Yoga, as a form of truth-telling connected with personal askesis is a quintessential example of Foucauldian ethical and aesthetic self-fashioning on one’s own terms. As a strategic form of self-disclosure, it fashions its own parole, which requires a hermeneutics which is in itself the initiation to an experimental generative and transformative discourse. The Seven Quartets of the Record of Yoga has to be seen as the reception of a functive in the Deleuzian sense, a functional enunciation of the problematic arising in the consciousness at a certain stage in a process of self-fashioning. Today, and in texts such as the present, there lies the danger of its reduction to “received knowledge,” and turned into a new orthodoxy. To prevent this, it is important to ground the theory in personal interpretation and experimental practice, a postmodern imperative. For this reason, wherever applicable, thinkers such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Deleuze, Foucault, Irigaray and others have been used as interlocutors to our text.

Objectives

To warp up, my primary objective in this text is to understand the processes and goals that relate to the integral transformation of being and nature in the seven quartets of Sri Aurobindo’s Record of Yoga.  It is also to understand the place of this particular formulation in the wider field of Indian yoga.  Thirdly, it is to provide us with an approach to a hermeneutic translation of this field of yoga, a process which Sri Aurobindo himself initiated, but which must be treated as an on-going project because of the progress of contemporary psychology and philosophy, and their interest in paranormal, trans-personal and trans-egoic processes as part of a dynamic understanding of the human being and its indeterminate boundaries. One of the objectives of the modern knowledge academy, as a post-Enlightenment global institution, has been the discursive articulation of an integral knowledge of the human, using the human sciences, and in keeping with this objective, one of our goals here is an approach to a new psychology of process aimed at the integral, beyond the normative bounds of modernity. Finally, part of our objective is to gain a key, an opening, to understanding the inner life of Sri Aurobindo through his Record of Yoga seen as a lived example, that we can learn from and derive inspiration from for success in experimental practice.

Prior to our entry into this study, it needs to be clearly understood that the Seven Quartets, as a “practical psychology,” is not therefore a psychotherapy. The practice of the Seven Quartets is an aid to a self-practice, for purposes of self-exceeding into an integral consciousness and for transformation of the nature and its operations into the natural dynamic vehicles of this integral consciousness. In its positioning in the knowledge-world of the modern academy, it is not an epistemology or theoretical system, a deep structure to order experience into hierarchic forms ripe for social ranking or exclusions and inclusions. It is rather, a system of creative practice, an archive of attention, a toolbox of engagement and experience. Similarly and perhaps most importantly, in the power-world of social life-activities, surreptitiously ordered in our times by global capital, it is not another (and even ultimate) technology at the service of social and economic advantage or of identity politics. If anything, it is the very reverse, the possibility of a subjective reversal, the freedom, richness and wholeness of conscious Being, known through identity as one and infinite.

 


[1] LD, p. 125.

[2] LD, p. 661.

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20 thoughts on “Introduction to The Seven Quartets of Becoming

  1. Kepler says:

    Debashish, Thanks for posting the intro of your book. It seems one of your goals is an attempt to contextualize Integral yoga such that it could appear legitimate to someone steeped in the contemporary western intellectual climate of the humanities and social sciences academy. It should be possible to do so and you appear to be making a valiant effort at it. Certain theories concerning global capitalism, technology, societal power structures, historicism, post-metaphysics, etc. are I suppose just assumed to be true within this world of discourse. One might note that other areas of the academy possibly relevant to yoga seem to center around quite different narratives, e.g. within anglophone philosophy of mind or within cognitive science, people are concerned with consciousness but don’t seem much focused on Foucault or Deleuze.
     
    I wonder if one might have to sometimes stretch a bit too far to make Sri Aurobindo fit into this discourse. You write: “This establishes the contemporary relevance of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga in terms of affording technologies of the self for autonomy and subjectivation of the individual and the ability to exert a transformative influence on determining regimes of global discourse in the micropolitics of power.” I’m not sure how much having an interest in influencing regimes of global discourse in the micropolitics of power typically translates into readiness or capacity for practicing Integral yoga. One usually thinks more of things like readiness of the inner being, capacity to open the mind upwards, etc.
     
    You also write: “The Record of Yoga, as a form of truth-telling connected with personal askesis is a quintessential example of Foucauldian ethical and aesthetic self-fashioning on one’s own terms.” I can’t really imagine Sri Auorbindo accepting a characterization of his yoga as ethical and aesthetic self-fashioning.

    I’m not conversant enough with Deleuze’s thought to know how well his idea of superfold “can well be thought of as close or analogous to an immanent version of Sri Aurobindo’s supermind” or whether his “‘scale of intensities’ can be seen as synonymous with the conversion of all experience to forms of bliss in Sri Aurobindo”. But I presume your talking about a conceptual similarity and not that you are claiming Deleuze was actually experiencing the Supermind or converting all his experience to Ananda. In any event, you’re making a very intelligent attempt at this dialog between Sri Aurobindo and postmodernism.

    Another goal of yours seems to be to offer postmodern intellectual sensibilities as a potential antidote to the (perceived) threat of religiosity and fanaticism attaching itself to and in some ways usurping Integral yoga. This may be an even steeper road to climb, but again one can imagine some fruit to be found somewhere along it.

    After I’ve read your entire book perhaps I’ll harass you with further comments.

    Kepler

  2. R says:

    I am several chapters into the book and although I am fine with the presentation of Integral Yoga, and really appreciate the way the connections are drawn between the Record of the Yoga and Sri Aurobindo’s later works and I still think this is an extraordinary effort to articulate IY in Deleuzean terms and visa versa.

    I do have a few concerns however that are a bit different than K’s. My concern is that for some the project may substantiate Badiou’s critique of Deleuze namely, that no matter how Deleuze writes about difference and multiplicity that he really privileges the One. That he is a philosopher of the One.

    – to be accused of being a philosopher of the One in contemporary French-Theory is almost to be called a Totalitarian-

    Badiou’s claim of course is that he is the first to truly establish an “ontology of the multiple” I don’t really buy the critique because Deleuze hardly mentions the ONE in his discourse. The Plane of Immanence, Plane of Consistency, BWO or, whatever he wants to call it in the particular book he was writing, is employed in an effort to get beyond the binary structures of language to better articulate an ontology of difference. The word Univocity – although derived from the Medieval philosophy of Duns Scotus and others – is just such an attempt to evoke the multiplicity without setting it against the Singular or the One.

    (I think if forced with the choice most interpreters and followers of Sri Aurobindo would say he privileges the One over the Many, and it is in fact difficult not to do given the stress throughout his writings on Unity and Integrality, which is a movement to construct Unity)

    Therefore in reading the chapter on the Quartet of Knowledge it occurred to me that the binary language used by Sri Aurobindo aka “the One vs the Many” is not really commensurable with concepts like the Deleuzean Plane of Immanence, which is an attempt to frame Univocity in terms other than the binary dualisms – the One vs the Many, Being and Becoming- used by Sri Aurobindo and most other philosophers in earlier/mid 20th century discourse.

    Not that this is necessarily a major set back for the project because the attempt to engage both discourses is an extraordinary undertaking that requires a new palette of words and textures to articulate.

    The book does an excellent job in beginning to paint a portrait in just such a new language by synthesizing these discourses even though the epistemic gap separating the two also opens up an incommensurability in the vocabulary both employ.

    My question/comment is that I wonder if there is yet a another language be it Spinozian, Bergsonian, or perhaps one derived from Complexity Theory, that can better triangulate a vocabulary that would further assist in the translation of both discourses into one with commensurate terminology?

    Finally since I have seen the postmodern label applied to Deleuze in the last comment, I want to clarify that although Deleuze did in fact write within the era that is called postmodern, that in fact his work diverges from most other continental philosophers who are labeled postmodernist. Unlike most postmodernist he is no Kantian, he does not think the world is all text and he does not privilege language over materiality.

    As Manuel DeLanda brings out in his lecturesDavid Hume. Deleuze is a materialist philosopher in the most non-reductive sense and much like complexity theorist of today (some fifty years after Deleuze) he sees materialism in terms of emergence not reduction. This new way to frame our understanding of matter is in fact another point of convergence I find in his work with that of Sri Aurobindo. Both attempt to create a new way to evaluate materialism in an “integral” sense albeit, even if we do not yet have a language to tease out this novel relationship….r

  3. debbanerji says:

    K: I wonder if one might have to sometimes stretch a bit too far to make Sri Aurobindo fit into this discourse. You write: “This establishes the contemporary relevance of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga in terms of affording technologies of the self for autonomy and subjectivation of the individual and the ability to exert a transformative influence on determining regimes of global discourse in the micropolitics of power.” I’m not sure how much having an interest in influencing regimes of global discourse in the micropolitics of power typically translates into readiness or capacity for practicing Integral yoga. One usually thinks more of things like readiness of the inner being, capacity to open the mind upwards, etc.

    DB: One must not forget that both Sri Aurobindo an the Mother were very aware of the social context of yoga. Sri Aurobindo can be considered a social philosopher with the development of conditions propitious to the emergence of consciousness being at the base of his social thought. The same can be said for the Mother in the practical formulation of Auroville. However, as part of the modernist discourse within which they articulated their ideas, the social, cultural and psychological were separated, so that yoga became articulated outside of its social/cultural conditions purely in terms of psychology.

    A postmodern discourse has problematized this exclusive differentiation, since particularly in our times when modernity has entered its global chapter, to think psychology in isolation from social and cultural realities is to blind oneself from social/cultural/historical inscription of discourses on human subjectivity and even anatomy (after all the body is a structure of consciousness). We live in a world saturated with economic and political power. In such a world, we may seek to find a “purity” of collective existence by taking shelter in ashrams or Aurovilles where we seem to be absolved of the need for thinking of these things because someone else has provided the sheltered social conditions. Or we may act as if such conditions are irrelevant to yoga by wishing them away in favor of a purity of psychological concern. However, in the present rapidly uniformalizing phase of neo-liberal globalization, the Hegelian end-of-history, there is no “inside” whether social or psychological which is immune from the determination of this fundamentally political regime. I am convinced that both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were very conscious of this and that their personal yoga through their acts of personal consciousness, was also a micropolitics. The scope of this micropolitics, in their case, was in fact hardly micro and is better seen as a macropolitics. Nevertheless, what I am saying is that there is a different way of perceiving the yoga, which does not isolate it from its dynamic entanglement with the forces of world politics and thus enables its action not only as a psychological “progress of consciousness” but as a being-in-the-world in the micropolitical sense. This is one way to understand the statement of Sri Aurobindo, “All Life is Yoga.”

    One sees a good example of this active today in the increasingly overt politicization of the ashram. I see this as the inability to see yoga simultaneously as social/cultural/psychological. The continuing denial of their intimate braiding has lead on the one hand to a rupture of the yoga in its alignment with extreme right wing politics and on the other to the willed refusal of the ostrich.

  4. debbanerji says:

    K: You also write: “The Record of Yoga, as a form of truth-telling connected with personal askesis is a quintessential example of Foucauldian ethical and aesthetic self-fashioning on one’s own terms.” I can’t really imagine Sri Auorbindo accepting a characterization of his yoga as ethical and aesthetic self-fashioning.

    DB: But do you think your (or my) imagination can encompass what Sri Aurobindo can or cannot accept? Facetiousness aside, “an eternal perfection is moulding us in its image.” What is the yoga of self-perfection but an ethics (will-to-right) and aesthetics (will-to-beauty) of self-fashioning? As one aspect of the Record, Sri Aurobindo was literally engaged in aesthetic self-fashioning since a siddhi of the sharira chatusthaya (quartet of the body) is saundarya (beauty). He understood this term in many ways, including the shaping of his body parts into the image of the perfection of an archetype.

    In the Foucauldian sense, an aesthetics of the self through disciplines of truth telling is a goal which can be thought of as an alignment with the Nietzschean project of overmanhood. Reading Nietzsche closely, one finds his overman as that being which exceeds environmental determinations through the power of creativity. This requires first a consciousness of the forces within and without which subject us. Freedom from subjection is the condition for the exercise of psychic and spiritual forces of self-perfection. The disciplines of truth telling help us to disentangle ourselves from the compromised life to which we have acceded through our weaknesses. It thereby strengthens that which is autonomous in us and its creative power, to refashion ourselves in the image of beauty (saundarya), an aesthetics of the self.

    As I said earlier, there are many descriptions of the Integral Yoga which Sri Aurobindo held simultaneously, and “an aesthetics of the self” leading to the image of Beauty, I believe, is one such description.

  5. debbanerji says:

    R: Badiou’s claim of course is that he is the first to truly establish an “ontology of the multiple” I don’t really buy the critique because Deleuze hardly mentions the ONE in his discourse. The Plane of Immanence, Plane of Consistency, BWO or, whatever he wants to call it in the particular book he was writing, is employed in an effort to get beyond the binary structures of language to better articulate an ontology of difference. The word Univocity – although derived from the Medieval philosophy of Duns Scotus and others – is just such an attempt to evoke the multiplicity without setting it against the Singular or the One.

    (I think if forced with the choice most interpreters and followers of Sri Aurobindo would say he privileges the One over the Many, and it is in fact difficult not to do given the stress throughout his writings on Unity and Integrality, which is a movement to construct Unity)

    Therefore in reading the chapter on the Quartet of Knowledge it occurred to me that the binary language used by Sri Aurobindo aka “the One vs the Many” is not really commensurable with concepts like the Deleuzean Plane of Immanence, which is an attempt to frame Univocity in terms other than the binary dualisms – the One vs the Many, Being and Becoming- used by Sri Aurobindo and most other philosophers in earlier/mid 20th century discourse.

    DB: I agree. SA in his language practice privileges the One over the Many, leading to misunderstandings, imo. Because a close reading makes it clear that the Integral is radically One and radically Infinite. This cannot be logically comprehended and any attempt to language it leads to difficulties. Deleuze’s Univocity, for example, which he characterizes by the formula Monism = Pluralism, can be misunderstood, as a kind of unity as Badiou has done, or even translated in Vedantic terms to a visistadvaita (qualified non-dualism) of the Ramanuja school, where one cannot know the One-in-itself, but the One-as-difference. According to SA’s integrality, this is one poise of the supermind, the other two being those of the One-in-itself and the Different-Ones. One may call these Radical Monism, Monism = Pluralism and radical Pluralism. To mind, there will always be the game of musical chairs between these three contenders without any conclusion. But it is important to empower each of these if one is to think the unthought within thought or aspire for that which is logically unthinkable.

    As you point out, what postmodernism has lent to this discourse, is the care to protect pluralism from its erasure or hegemonic inclusion in some reified Unity. Hence the importance of thinking the One simultaneously with the Infinte, as against an either/or becomes foregrounded. I like your suggestion of triangulation and feel what is needed today to language the Aurobindian integral are plural language practices and a culture of conscious problematization which resists the settling of ideograms.

    While it is true that I follow the language of One/Many binary in the Quartet of Knowledge, I also point to alternate ways of privileging Being and Becoming or Space and Time by bringing Bergson/Deleuze wrt SA in understanding the Integral. I feel that this is an approach to the triangulation you suggest, though I agree a more persistent aporetic struggle of language needs to be highlighted.

  6. debbanerji says:

    K: But I presume your talking about a conceptual similarity and not that you are claiming Deleuze was actually experiencing the Supermind or converting all his experience to Ananda.

    DB: Yes. He arrived philosophically at anlogous “virtual” ontologies and empirical practices aimed at “actualizing” them.

  7. Kepler says:

    DB: “However, in the present rapidly uniformalizing phase of neo-liberal globalization, the Hegelian end-of-history, there is no “inside” whether social or psychological which is immune from the determination of this fundamentally political regime.”

    K: So is your idea that although yoga has been for ages a fundamentally inner mode of practice and experience, practiced under all manner of diverse social and political regimes, climates, and cultures, now (based on the authority of recent continental philosophy) all that has changed and yoga is no longer primarily an inner practice but is now just as much a social and political one?

    Postmodernist discourse may legitimately raise awareness of certain social and political dimensions of psychology and subjectivity, and applying it to the various social forms IY has taken can make for an interesting critique. But it seems a very aggressive reification of the theory to make radical claims about there being no more such a thing as an inner life and consciousness independent of neo-liberal globalization (or whatnot). I just don’t think it’s likely that yoga as experienced for millennia is now fundamentally a different thing because of recent French theorizing. It may be necessary to acknowledge that this theorizing is in fact not based on or informed by yogic experience, and thus there will remain some important areas of incommensurability in the discourses.

    DB: “Nevertheless, what I am saying is that there is a different way of perceiving the yoga, which does not isolate it from its dynamic entanglement with the forces of world politics and thus enables its action not only as a psychological “progress of consciousness” but as a being-in-the-world in the micropolitical sense. This is one way to understand the statement of Sri Aurobindo, ‘All Life is Yoga.’”

    K: No doubt yoga (especially IY) should not be seen as inner-only and isolated from political and other world forces. But yoga tends to work from the inside-out. However engaged in micropolitics one may be, surely it’s not yoga until certain experiences and realizations of the inner consciousness occur. That those are in an ultimate sense continuous with all of outer life is fine, but that doesn’t change the fundamental requirement of inner yogic experience for something to be considered yoga. So my point was that there’s an issue of readiness and capacity for yogic experience, it’s not enough just to be interested in micropolitics. Disagree?

    DB: “What is the yoga of self-perfection but an ethics (will-to-right) and aesthetics (will-to-beauty) of self-fashioning?”

    K: One can perhaps flex the common meaning of “aesthetics” enough to apply it to IY. But re ethics, didn’t Sri Aurobindo write in multiple places contrasting yoga with the mental/moral concepts and practices of ethics? Hence I suspect you would have to completely redefine the word from the meaning used by Sri Aurobindo in order to conclude IY is a type of ethics.

  8. debbanerji says:

    K: So is your idea that although yoga has been for ages a fundamentally inner mode of practice and experience, practiced under all manner of diverse social and political regimes, climates, and cultures, now (based on the authority of recent continental philosophy) all that has changed and yoga is no longer primarily an inner practice but is now just as much a social and political one?

    DB: “For ages” yoga has been mostly a discipline that has kept itself at arm’s length from “social and political regimes, climates and cultures.” This has allowed it the freedom to determine an inner life based free from the consideration of such forces. Even otherwise, there is a fundamental difference between “the ages” and “the present.” Human subjectivity in the present is instrumentalized and commodified to a much greater degree than ever before in the service of an impersonal world market and political forces of power leveraging these world machineries. The making of such a coherent world is accomplished not merely through objective machineries but through subject-making – i.e. producing subjects to maintain such coherence by determining their subjectivities through an infiltration and subjection of their “inner lives.” Our age has been characterized as the age of “flattening” because there is hardly any interiority left other than what the coherent techno-capital world market allows. What we call agency in such a world is also largely bound the enormous forces which make us subjects in this world. All this doesn’t feel familiar? Just postmodernist paranoia? Well, so be it. There is no waking the comfortable sleepers.

    Yoga has always been a primarily inner practice and that has not changed. The question is what access do we have to interiority today if we are not to seek out the caves of the Himalayas (where also tourists with their commodities will invade us and use us for their advertisational works)? It is because Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were conscious of this that they tried to create alternate social spaces where the forces of modernity could be selectively engaged but made subservient to the needs of the inner life. Such a social choice made by them comes from a political awareness. If one can create such spaces today, that would be an example of a micropolitics. But what I’m saying is that it is not necessary to create such spaces, one may make an individual go of it but one has to first recover one’s inner life by understanding the forces that are presently girding the world ever more tightly and determining our subjectivities. This awareness and response is a micropolitics.

    K: But yoga tends to work from the inside-out. However engaged in micropolitics one may be, surely it’s not yoga until certain experiences and realizations of the inner consciousness occur. That those are in an ultimate sense continuous with all of outer life is fine, but that doesn’t change the fundamental requirement of inner yogic experience for something to be considered yoga. So my point was that there’s an issue of readiness and capacity for yogic experience, it’s not enough just to be interested in micropolitics. Disagree?

    DB: No, I don’t disagree. Micropolitics is not necessarily yoga. But arriving at an awareness of the conditioning forces of the political world today is a part of the ” experiences and realizations of the inner consciousness” necessary to a yoga which includes life today.

    K: One can perhaps flex the common meaning of “aesthetics” enough to apply it to IY. But re ethics, didn’t Sri Aurobindo write in multiple places contrasting yoga with the mental/moral concepts and practices of ethics? Hence I suspect you would have to completely redefine the word from the meaning used by Sri Aurobindo in order to conclude IY is a type of ethics.

    B: Firstly, I don’t think one has to flex much to apply “an aesthetics of the self” to the IY that Sri Aurobindo was practicing (not only at the physical/sharira level, but check out the Yoga of Divine Love and see what sadrishya means). On the subject of ethics, who says it has to be mental/moral? Seen as a practice of the self (which is what Foucault is talking about) it is a will-to-the-right, a tapas leading to ritam. Are not some of the primary qualities of Supermind – Truth, Right and Vastness (Satyam, Ritam, Brihat)? This is the truth of ethics, not some moral convention, which is exactly what Foucault is trying to get away from.

  9. Kepler says:

    DB: “Human subjectivity in the present is instrumentalized and commodified to a much greater degree than ever before in the service of an impersonal world market and political forces of power leveraging these world machineries.” … “Our age has been characterized as the age of “flattening” because there is hardly any interiority left other than what the coherent techno-capital world market allows. What we call agency in such a world is also largely bound the enormous forces which make us subjects in this world. “

    K: I’m a little surprised you accept such sweepingly dogmatic assertions as just given facts. I’d say there is some truth here and there in these views, but mixed with plenty of error also – the usual intellectual attempt to totalize concepts (in this case across all of history as well). But “so be it”. I’ll return to my “comfortable” slumber – at least it’s not a Kantian “dogmatic slumber” :)

    DB: “The question is what access do we have to interiority today…“

    K: Kidding aside, do you honestly believe that today one seeking to do yoga no longer has access to “interiority” as someone would have, say 100 years ago, and all because of the spread of neo-liberal globalization? Was access to interiority comparatively easy for a Taoist mystic living under the rule of Genghis Khan, an early Christian mystic living under the global hegemonic Roman empire, or a Jewish mystic living in medieval Europe? Isn’t it a known ahistorical fallacy to assume one’s own time is fantastically unique and unprecedented? (i.e. throughout history people have tended to think that about their own time). Ego and desire have been the roots of human psychology for a long time and still are – the outer forms may change but the content remains recognizably similar. I would rather point there to identify the usual underlying “forces that are presently girding the world ever more tightly and determining our subjectivities”. But since learning here that my subjectivity has actually been determined by the techno-capital world market, perhaps I shouldn’t be so confident…

  10. R says:

    D: Our age has been characterized as the age of “flattening” because there is hardly any interiority left other than what the coherent techno-capital world market allows. What we call agency in such a world is also largely bound the enormous forces which make us subjects in this world. “

    K: I’m a little surprised you accept such sweepingly dogmatic assertions as just given facts.

    R: Since this conversation is being flattened out and monitored in a techno-medium that otherwise is the servo-mechanism of streaming global markets, and as a medium it tends to flatten out nuance, connotation, subtly and tone of conversation, this may itself prove the facts here,

    But there are some other assertions here that remain unproven namely, that there is some ahistorical subjective essence that yoga allows access to, that interiority remains static over the ages and transcendent to its social millieu; this seems especially a hard sell if one believes that the psychic being in fact, evolves.

  11. debbanerji says:

    K: Isn’t it a known ahistorical fallacy to assume one’s own time is fantastically unique and unprecedented? (i.e. throughout history people have tended to think that about their own time).

    DB: I wish you were around to give this lecture to the Mother after she told the children in the playground not to forget for even a moment that they were witness to the birth of a New Age.

    Or when Sri Aurobindo was writing that we are poised for an evolutionary leap.

    But this is not the only unprecedented rupture our age is all about. Modernity, the epoch generated by the Enlightenment and its drives for knowledge and power, is premised on such an unprecedented rupture, even the Hegelian end-of-history can be read either in terms of a self-perpetuating stasis of rationality or a perpetual rupture, separating itself from the past at every moment. Such a twilight age is all around us now – twilight not only because it is “the dreamcrossed twilight between death and birth” (T.S. Eliot) but because of the ambiguity of which twilight we are talking about.

    There are two ways in which such a perpetual rupture may be thought (just as there may be two kinds of Enlightenment): (1) the complete instrumentalization of human subjectivity; (2) the perpetual miracle of the Life Divine. Unfortunately, the first kind of rupture is what rules our age now (in spite of the happy undogmatic sleepers) – it is the leaching of history, the momentariness of flattened subjecivity, to which duration, the intuition of Becoming, is rendered unavailable. This is the loss of interiority (not one which remains static but the being of evolution) I see ourselves subject to.

    K: Was access to interiority comparatively easy for a Taoist mystic living under the rule of Genghis Khan, an early Christian mystic living under the global hegemonic Roman empire, or a Jewish mystic living in medieval Europe?

    DB: In short, yes. The reson: The hegemonic rules you talk about were hardly more than administrative. They did not try to condition subjectivity through technologies of desire production and consumption and the wholesale commodification of time and human relations. But of course, as the medium is the massage, the saturation one lives in is not so easy to recognize. Hence, the comfortable sleep gives so much comfort.

    In the early decades of the 20th c., at the height of the cultural movement of modernism (a critique of modernity), Sri Aurobindo was foreseeing an imminent shift from a subjective age to a spiritual age. This shift did not take place. Not that he was sans skepticism about it – he pointed to the economic barbarism which stood in the way. At the end of his life, when he was writing the last chapters of Life Divine, he returned to this theme – the need for a spiritual turn in humanity if the evolutionary nisus was to be fulfilled now rather then never or in the remote future. Here too he warns that the dangers are considerable and our being aware of this is important. Today, hardly anyone is even interested in this message in spite of the widespread availability of Sri Aurobindo’s works everywhere. Why? Because the medium has massaged us into the comfortable sleep. Human subjectivity belongs to the market and to the politics of ideology. It is these determinations which need to be supplanted if an interior space can be found for the waking of a new aspiration.

  12. Kepler says:

    DB: I wish you were around to give this lecture to the Mother after she told the children in the playground not to forget for even a moment that they were witness to the birth of a New Age. Or when Sri Aurobindo was writing that we are poised for an evolutionary leap.

    K: The context from which you lifted my “lecture” was your claim that human access to interiority has been basically the same throughout all of history until the present time when it has been fundamentally altered by the forces of global techno-capitalism. I don’t believe Mother or Sri Aurobindo have ever made an analogous claim.

    DB: The hegemonic rules you talk about were hardly more than administrative. They did not try to condition subjectivity through technologies of desire production and consumption and the wholesale commodification of time and human relations.

    K: Is technology and commodification the only way to condition human subjectivity? Did the Spanish Inquisition not condition the subjectivity of those living under it?

    If you made more modest and nuanced claims like maybe that the present-day scale of global techno-capitalism is unprecedented and may be affecting human subjectivity in significant ways that are not yet completely understood, then it wouldn’t warrant any comment. E.g. instead of “Human subjectivity belongs to the market”, maybe “market forces might be having an impact on human subjectivity”. But to make such sweeping claims without citing evidence or detailing arguments, just re-asserting them repeatedly in an effort to “awaken the sleepers”, well doesn’t it have a certain religious feel to it? But these ideas seem close to your heart so I’m sorry if I’ve poked you too hard over them. Meanwhile your book has arrived and at a glance it seems to be mostly about yoga, not global techno-capitalism, and thus coincides with my own interests.

  13. Kepler says:

    R: Since this conversation is being flattened out and monitored in a techno-medium that otherwise is the servo-mechanism of streaming global markets, and as a medium it tends to flatten out nuance, connotation, subtly and tone of conversation, this may itself prove the facts here.

    K: This conversation is also only possible at all because of the existing techno-medium. Should we dismantle the medium since it has a certain flattening effect and also serves streaming global markets? The facts being demonstrated seem to me to be just the rather obvious ones that technology serves various ends and can be used in various ways, all mixed up with the various motives and qualities of human nature.

    R: But there are some other assertions here that remain unproven namely, that there is some ahistorical subjective essence that yoga allows access to, that interiority remains static over the ages and transcendent to its social millieu; this seems especially a hard sell if one believes that the psychic being in fact, evolves.

    You’re right, and these assertions will remain unprovable in any inter-subjective way. Sri Aurobindo describes a certain static component to the human essence (Jivatman), and another evolutionary component that develops over time/births (Psychic being), that are both accessible via yoga; and then there’s the mental/vital complex (i.e. ordinary subjectivity) that varies a lot across culture and history, although still with certain recognizable patterns (ego, desire) despite the varying outer forms.

    There’s also a global history of mystics writing about their essential experiences across time and culture in which one can observe certain common or repeating features. This might count as some evidence that human essential subjectivity is not entirely a creation of a specific culture at a specific historical time, and that this essence is accessible, although not easily.

  14. R says:

    K: This conversation is also only possible at all because of the existing techno-medium. Should we dismantle the medium since it has a certain flattening effect and also serves streaming global markets? The facts being demonstrated seem to me to be just the rather obvious ones that technology serves various ends and can be used in various ways, all mixed up with the various motives and qualities of human nature.

    R: The fact a medium makes something possible does not mean it does not fundamentally alter the message transmitted through it. By in large citizens of developed societies live lives today that are engulfed within the medium of ubiquitous technologies. One could argue for scientific studies that note the destruction of deep attention in children and the diminishing of empathic response in young adults, or site the flattening or waning of affect in postmodernity that has been well argued by a number of prominent psychologist, philosophers and cultural theorist but, even so perhaps you would be still be unconvinced that our evolving techno-cultural environment has any impact on human subjectivity.

    If so and you believe that the dramatic acceleration of technological mediation (along with its corresponding ideology of consumption) that increasingly pervades our LifeWorld, and which is wholly unprecedented in human history, has had no impact on human subjectivity then you would have to marshal facts to support that thesis.

    K: There’s also a global history of mystics writing about their essential experiences across time and culture in which one can observe certain common or repeating features. This might count as some evidence that human essential subjectivity is not entirely a creation of a specific culture at a specific historical time, and that this essence is accessible, although not easily.

    R: I agree that there are mystics across time who have written about their internal experience but in my reading they all do so by employing explanatory narratives derived from the mythological and/or spiritual systems they are culturally embedded in. This is why Aurobindo borrows heavily from Vedantic thought and even uses the term Jivatman and by contrast it also explains why Teilhard frames the future through a Christian lens.

    It seems to me impossible to prove that there is any essence of human subjectivity, apart from its embededness in culture or that an individual mind can exist apart from a shared group mind. For example, Sri Aurobindo had to be raised in a family of humans to learn language, the language he employs in his discourse is by in large a result of his Cambridge education and the influence of the Zeit Geist he was living within. He became a leader of the Indian independence movement because he was born in India not Ireland. This is the same reason he became interested in the process of yoga namely because it is a practice derived from clusters of spiritual traditions spread across the Subcontinent. Dare I say that if any mystic throughout history had been raised by wolves they would be howling at moon rather than offering confessions or chanting mantras.

  15. Kepler says:

    R: …perhaps you would be still be unconvinced that our evolving techno-cultural environment has any impact on human subjectivity

    K: I’m not at all committed to the idea that our unprecedented techno-cultural environment has no impact on human subjectivity. My problem is with the utterly opposite idea that the present techno-cultural environment is now determining human subjectivity, and has in fact so radically altered human subjectivity that it can now be divided into two distinct categories: the present techno-cultural subjectivity, and all-the-rest-of-history subjectivity. And that this determination goes so deep that it affects not just ordinary surface psychological movements but also the inner spaces of yoga. Maybe I’m mis-reading DB but it seemed to me these are the things he’s saying.

    R: It seems to me impossible to prove that there is any essence of human subjectivity…

    K: Right, I granted you that, at least not an inter-subjective proof. I.e. one might be able to prove it to oneself via yogic experience.

    R: Dare I say that if any mystic throughout history had been raised by wolves they would be howling at moon rather than offering confessions or chanting mantras.

    K: If said mystic realized the Atman, he may indeed express his realization by howling at the moon – but he would still be living in the inner Atman consciousness. Note I’m not saying a wolf man is likely to realize the Atman, or that this is a proof of anything, I’m just carrying on your thought experiment. The obvious cultural embeddedness of various aspects of human subjectivity is not necessarily inconsistent with there also being a non culturally-embedded essence.

  16. R says:

    K: My problem is with the utterly opposite idea that the present techno-cultural environment is now determining human subjectivity, and has in fact so radically altered human subjectivity that it can now be divided into two distinct categories: the present techno-cultural subjectivity, and all-the-rest-of-history subjectivity.

    R: I dont interpret D as saying that but what I am saying is the effects of techno-culture upon humans are different than those that preceded it. And I am not just saying all the effects of this emerging culture are negative, if I look at my own kids who have grown up within this techno-culture, they are way smarter and than myself.

    I do think however, there is evidence to support the thesis that some of the consequences of the evolving techno-culture have important implications for human relational and affective responses, that I would not categorize as positive.

    K: The obvious cultural embeddedness of various aspects of human subjectivity is not necessarily inconsistent with there also being a non culturally-embedded essence.

    R: A non-culturally embedded essence would be very difficult to prove, But even if I am arguing that human subjectivity is fundamentally determined by culture in fact, I see yoga as an important key to achieving freedom from ones culturally determined responses. But that said, this does not take me back to any subjective essence, because yoga itself is a culturally determined practice

  17. Kepler says:

    R: I do think however, there is evidence to support the thesis that some of the consequences of the evolving techno-culture have important implications for human relational and affective responses, that I would not categorize as positive.

    K: I agree with this modest and sober claim.

    R: But that said, this does not take me back to any subjective essence, because yoga itself is a culturally determined practice

    K: Must “culturally determined” be a binary attribute? Couldn’t some aspects of the phenomenon called yoga be culturally embedded and some not? If there were nothing at all about yoga that escaped cultural determination, that would probably imply there’s no such thing as yoga as we usually conceive of it (i.e. it would be an illusion).

  18. R says:

    K: Must “culturally determined” be a binary attribute? Couldn’t some aspects of the phenomenon called yoga be culturally embedded and some not? If there were nothing at all about yoga that escaped cultural determination, that would probably imply there’s no such thing as yoga as we usually conceive of it (i.e. it would be an illusion).

    R: There are in fact inner technologies of transformation and attention spread across multiple world cultures many of which are called other things than yoga. I would say that what they share is that they aim at liberation of the subject and all are culturally embedded to some extent. But that said I do not think that makes the goals aimed at by these practices necessarily illusionary or less profound. I also do not think that denoting an inner technology -such as yoga- as culturally embedded subtracts anything from the liberatory potential it offers the human subject. I would also add that if one is inclined to see the Divine in everything that to see the Divine pervading our cultural practices is not to stretch the imagination.

  19. debbanerji says:

    K: If you made more modest and nuanced claims like maybe that the present-day scale of global techno-capitalism is unprecedented and may be affecting human subjectivity in significant ways that are not yet completely understood, then it wouldn’t warrant any comment. E.g. instead of “Human subjectivity belongs to the market”, maybe “market forces might be having an impact on human subjectivity”.

    DB: OK, if I seem to make totalistic claims, it is because such totalistic trajectories are hegemonic in our times. To what extent they have determined subjectivity today may be questioned, and my interest does not lie in fighting on one side or other of that debate. What I am concerend about is the danger and the need to be aware of our historicity, which indeed, is unprecedented and thus being recognized, even by mainstream anthropologists as an entry into a new era, the anthropocene age. But to call it by that name hides other serious implications of such an age.

    For a yoga which is not just about finding the jivatman, whether culturally bounded or not, and is more properly related to an evolutionary change, interiority becomes the grasp of Being-in-Becoming and our position in its evolutionary history. This is what Bergson and Deleuze refer to as Duration and this is what is rendered increasingly inaccessible by the flattening and instrumentalizing effects of our age, where forces of global competition utilize global technologies to accelerate the production of perpetual novelty and the manufacture of corresponding packaged desires for consumption through (near-)instant gratification. These processes of production press for the human subject to turn increasingly into instrument bereft of interiority and the processes of consumption in turn produce a surrogate interiority and populate it with its manufactured desires. Again, how completely these things are accomplished is not what I am debating, but pointing to the need to be aware of these forces and developing alternate technologies of consciousness against their grain to aim for another kind of human subjectivity and global fulfillment, one that pertains to a divine life.

  20. Kepler says:

    DB: Again, how completely these things are accomplished is not what I am debating, but pointing to the need to be aware of these forces and developing alternate technologies of consciousness against their grain to aim for another kind of human subjectivity and global fulfillment, one that pertains to a divine life.

    K: Okay, I’m with you there.

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