Historical Integral Thinkers: Aurobindo, his Integral Yoga and Integral Vision

by editor

If there was a visionary who helmed the Integral Movement even before its birth, it was Sri Aurobindo Ghose, the illustrious yogi, philosopher, poet and political activist from India. Sri Aurobindo, as he is fondly called by his devotees, is a pioneer Integral Thinker whose Integral Yoga philosophy inspired Ken Wilber and others to develop the concept of the Integral Movement. Integralism can be said to have born in the works of Sri Aurobindo, especially in his Letters on Yoga and Synthesis of Yoga. Though Aurobindo did not focus much on the political aspect of the philosophy, his objective was “transformation” of the highest kind, the kind which includes all aspects – the Physical, the Vital, the Mental, the Psychic and the Spiritual – into a “supramental” state or what is called the supermind. By advocating the Integral Yoga, Sri Aurobindo wanted to bring about a world reform through integral consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo’s Early Life: Born in 1872 in India, Sri Aurobindo had an eventful life before he stepped into the world of spirituality. After education in England, he joined in State service at Baroda and learned Indian culture, languages and philosophy.

Though his father wanted to keep him away from Indian culture, Sri Aurobindo took acute interest in Indian cultural practices, spirituality and political movement. He became a political activist who was arrested for his outrageous banter and attack against the British rule in India during 1900 to 1950. He was one of the strongest hardline political activists who would do anything to make the British grant complete freedom for India. His activism slowly turned spiritual on account of his yogic practices. In one of his episodes in jail, he had a vision in which the Divine guided him to start a spiritual movement. This prompted the vibrant political freedom fighter to escape to the then French colony of Pondicherry and engage in spiritual practices of a unique kind. In Pondicherry, he founded the Aurobindo Ashram, from which he and his spiritual collaborator The Mother rendered spiritual teachings to people all over the world.

Here was born the Integral Yoga, a spiritual visionary’s view of how the world should be (rather, will be) if there is “integral” or complete growth in all spheres of life. Sri Aurobindo, apart from being a spiritual leader and yogi, is also a poet who has composed/written the Saviriti, an epic poem in blank verse of about 24,000 lines.

What is “Integral” about the Integral Yoga? Sri Aurobindo advocated in his teachings that the Integral Yoga or the “Purna Yoga” means complete yoga which aids in transformation and transcending of humanity from the current state of existence to a superior or what he called, a “supramental” state of being. Integral Yoga, in general, means “the process of union of all the parts of one’s being with the Divine and the transmutation of all the jarring elements into a harmonious state of higher divine consciousness and existence” (Wikipedia definition). In his own definition, Sri Aurobindo says that the Integral Yoga is a holistic path toward the Divine. His Integral Thought is evident in his series of Letters on Yoga and The Synthesis of Yoga.

Sri Aurobindo considered man’s present mental consciousness to be a “transitional” stage in the terrestrial of evolution. He believed that our current civilization is at the “brink of an evolutionary leap” and we are in for a “greater, larger, supramental experience” of life. The integral development would mean transformation of the entire being, including the transformation of the Physical, the Vital, the Mental, the Psychic, the Spiritual elements of our self. Nothing is left behind. One level of consciousness transcends the other, not excluding it, but including it in its growth toward a higher state.  The Integral Yoga involves going beyond the surface consciousness to that of larger life of inner consciousness to live the spiritual life. The Yoga is “integral” in the sense that it does not exclude any stages of existence nor ignores any elements of the being. Everything – from the Outer Being to the Psychic Being is important. In the same way, the Yoga does not just preach about achieving Divinity or “nirvana” in the end, but bringing about change in the physical world as well. Its objective is to achieve an “integral result” through an “integral method”.

Integralism, Aurobindo and Wilber: Sri Aurobindo’s Integral theory extended beyond the spiritual and the individual. His vision advocated a social transformation too. He said that it is the soul and spirit that guide the social/exterior transformation. Though the Spirit is at first hidden and occult, it comes out when time is ripe. In the meanwhile, the Spirit guides the mind to follow its own course. After a few stages of development,  the mind controls our ego and vital state of being, enabling objective perspective and potential human reform. At the highest state of mental development, or what Wilber and Don Beck would call the “integral” state of consciousness, “a true solution to humanity’s problems becomes visible in the context of a radical transformation of human life, into a form of divine existence.”

Wilber was inspired by Aurobindo’s “integral” state of consciousness. Sri Aurobindo’s belief that humanity is at the brink of a major evolution (a “supramental” evolution), coincided with Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics and Wilber’s Integral Thinking. Drawing inspiration from Sri Aurobindo’s states of consciousness and the necessity for growth (and inclusion of) all spheres of life, Wilber proposed his AQAL (All-Quadrants-All-Levels) theory. This way, Sri Aurobindo has become a major contributor to the Integral philosophy and one of the historical thinkers of the Integral line of thought.

Aurobindo’s vision for the world and humanity at large too expressed his position as an Integral thinker. In his third and fifth dreams, delivered on the day of India’s independence, Aurobindo expresses his dream of a “a global polity in which the security of the world was assured and a sense of harmony and concord developed among the peoples of the world.” In his fifth dream, he dreams of “humanity to rise to a new stage of being, a new kind of life or a new species which can overcome the limitations of the present human constitution.”

Reference Links:

1. The Life and Works of Sri Aurobindo

2. Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga and its components

3. M. Alan Kazlev on Sri Aurobindo and Wilber in Wilber and Aurobindo

4. The Integral Psychology of Sri Aurobindo

5. Sri Aurobindo’s Five Dreams and Triple Transformation

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