Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sri Aurobindo's Synthesis of Yoga is the first major work that does describe an authentic Integral Spiritual Practice

I want to distinguish between "integral philosophy" and the "integral movement". Prior to around 2003/2004, there was no "integral movement", only a Wilberian-based movement that called itself "integral". But Integral cannot be based on person or philosophy alone. Only when there was a true synthesis, did the conceptual framework that presents a convergence of many philosophies and insights and practical approaches, can there be an "integral movement". I am however still not sure whether there even is an "integral movement" as something distinct from the larger new paradigm "rising culture"; I remain agnostic on this point for now.
In the twentieth century, word "Integral" was coined, totally independently, four times, in each case around a certain cluster of shared memes (ideas).
Sri Aurobindo - Integral Yoga (first published in serial form 1914 onwards)
Pitirim Sorokin – Integral Society (beginning in 1910s, main work published in the 1930s)
Jean Gebser – Integral Aperspective (1930s, first published in 1949)
Frithjof Schuon - Integral Metaphysics (date?)
Of these, I have not included Schuon in the following discussion, because as a member of the Traditionalist school (founded by Rene Guenon) he rejects modernity and evolution, two essential elements in the Integral movement. However his Integral metaphysics as transcendent insight or experience of the Intellect (in the sense of Intellectus = gnosis) is in keeping with Sri Aurobindo's teachings regarding the Divine.
The other three constitute the founders of the Integral movement, as a sort of geneology of the Integral. I have noticed that there are a number of distinct groups that "own" the word "Integral". I then discovered that Integral educationalist Gary Hampson has observed the same thing ("Integral Re-views Postmodernism: The Way Out Is Through" Integral Review 4, 2007 pp.13-4, Hampson suggests that there are at least six intertwined genealogical branches here, those aligned with Sri Aurobindo, Gebser, Wilber, philosopher Ashok Gangadean, László and Austrian esotericist Rudolf Steiner (according to Jennifer Gidley; Paul McDermott of the California Institute of Integral Studies makes the connection between Steiner and Sri Aurobindo). Although his brief coverage is extremely informative and useful, and I would highly recommend it to historians of the Integral movement, his list leaves out Pitirim Sorokin (Harvard sociologist), Paul Ray (Cultural Creatives) and interdisciplinary scientist Sally Goerner, which are here tentatively grouped in a single catagory.
I have left out Steiner because he himself did not use the term. For the same reason, I have excluded here Henri Bergson, Samuel Alaxander, Alfred North Whitehad, Vladimir Vernadsky, Pierre Teilhard, Edward Haskell, Oliver Resier, Arthur M. Young, and many others (however, these individuals might be included in the following section). In other instances I have suggested new categories. All of which make eight altogether (not counting non-aligned individuals who have also adopted the term). The following diagram shows a geneology ofd the word, but not of all influences. For limitations of space, and to avoid teh whole diagram becoming much too complex, I have had to avoid including many important influences...
Fig. 2. Geneology of "Integralism"
As can be seen in the diagram, the Integral Yoga stream has yet to connect with the larger movement of Integralism. There is a reason for this. Integral Yoga is esoteric, and involves a radical transformation of consciousness, whereas the Integral mainstream is exotericx, andf involves very little if any transformation.
As mentioned earlier in this essay, there is no one definition of "integral". So mainstrewam integralism corresponds only to the integral stage of psychological and social development in teh West, whereas the Integral or Supramental Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother represents a stage many orders of magnituude in advance of anything in the Western exoteric tradition.
For this same reason, some of the less confronting the intellectual aspects of Sri Aurobindo's teaching have been influential (thanks no doubt to their popularisation by Integralists like Wilber, Combs, and Cohen), but not the practical teachings, and not the more radical implications of the divinisation of matter.
The following, very preliminary list, elaborates upon fig.2, and represents my own interpretation of various individuals and teachers who have referred to their philosophy and practice as "integral". Others may have completely different understandings. Note that someone can belong to a number of categories; they are not necessarily exclusive. But in general there seem to be a limited number of "attractors" around which the larger and more eclectic Integral majority gravitates.
Integral Yoga (Sri Aurobindo and The Mother)
Beginning in 1914, Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa's (the Mother of the Aurobindo Ashram) taught a profound spiritual-esoteric teaching of individual and collective divinisation, "Integral Yoga", which initiated the entire Integral Paradigm. This is the Integral Yoga community - This is the community of Integral Yoga practitioners; those who follow the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as an authentic spiritual path. Some are more religious and "heart-centered", others spiritual rather than religious. I would advise anyone who who wants to understand Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to dialogue with the actual community itself (which has a decent online presence), rather than rely on the misinterpretations of Wilber and other integralists. As well as the Larger Integral Movement (see below), this is the tradition I most closely resonate with. There seems to be a division here into various sub-streams, although for the most part relationships between them are good.
Some important representatives (to date) are:
Sri Aurobindo (founder)
Mirra Alfassa aka The Mother (co-founder)
M. P. Pandit (prolific commentator)
K.D. Sethna aka Amal Kiran (Indian poet, scholar, writer, philosopher, and cultural critic and author of more than forty books, including (of most relevance here) a compiliation of his letters and essays comparing Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard)..
Satprem (influential in the West; edited Agenda)
Georges van Vrekhem (first truly balanced (neither devotional nor sceptical) account)
Outside the Integral Yoga community, which includes people who have devoted their lives to the study and practice of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's teachings, the true meaning of Integral Yoga remains almost incomprehensible to the rest of the Integral movement, which is far more exoteric (surface consciousness) in approach.
Integral Society (Pitirim Sorokin, Paul Ray, Sally Goerner)
A more scientific, rather than spiritual or yogic, approach is provided by sociologists who point to the rise of a future, more holistic and spiritual, Integral Society. One of these was Pitirim Sorokin, a contemporary of Sri Aurobindo. Intriguingly, Sri Aurobindo in The Human Cycle (like his other major works dating from 1914) has a very similar series of stages to those suggested by Sorokin and Gebser, so these ideas seem to have been in the air at the time...
In this essay I have not discussed this subject, because the Integral Movement as a whole has not yet explored it, apart from the knowledge the Integral Yoga community have of these subjects thanks to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. However, a truly integral comprehension has to embrace everything. It cannot deny hermeticism, occultism, or esotericism because these things don't fit with the modernist reality framework.
One could even suggest as a possible candidate as the dividing line between modernity (by which I mean modernism and some of "postmodernism") and a complete (post-post-)integral (complete in that it integrates the exoteric and the esoteric) is metaphysical insight, in other words gnosis. But, this being an integral synthesis, this is gnosis alongside the insights of science and academia. Which is why I don't agree with the Traditionalists (Guenon, Schuon, etc) rejection of modernity..
So if you can acknowledge esoteric realities beyond the secular and the material, and truly integrate both, you are no longer within modernity's conceptual framework. But from this perspective, very few Integral groups really are integral, in the sense of being able to embrace not just exoteric but esoteric (inner) realities. Esoteric definitions of post-post-post- (however) – Integral consciousness include a number of different dimensions or stages...
Sri Aurobindo's Synthesis of Yoga is the first major work that does describe an authentic (in the sense of all inclusive) Integral Spiritual Practice. And really, it has never been superseded. In contrast to the non-integral spirituality of Wilberian and related streams of the Integral movement, it can serve as the basis for the Esoteric/Enlightened perspective, and enable a much larger Integral perspective than the current exoteric Integralism.
The following passage, from chapter V of the introduction of Synthesis of Yoga, explains how even in its most preliminary methodology, the Integral spirituality of Sri Aurobindo goes far beyond anything in the Integral movement now, and probably beyond anything the Integral Movement will have to offer for decades to come (unless my own work has an influence; because by writing about something I am also changing it).
" is always through something in the lower that we must rise into the higher existence, and the schools of Yoga each select their own point of departure or their own gate of escape. They specialise certain activities of the lower prakriti and turn them towards the Divine. But the normal action of Nature in us is an integral movement in which the full complexity of all our elements is affected by and affects all our environments. The whole of life is the Yoga of Nature. The Yoga that we seek must also be an integral action of Nature, and the whole difference between the Yogin and the natural man will be this, that the Yogin seeks to substitute in himself for the integral action of the lower Nature working in and by ego and division the integral action of the higher Nature working in and by God and unity. If indeed our aim be only an escape from the world to God, synthesis is unnecessary and a waste of time; for then our sole practical aim must be to find out one path out of the thousand that lead to God, one shortest possible of short cuts, and not to linger exploring different paths that end in the same goal. But if our aim be a transformation of our integral being into the terms of God-existence, it is then that a synthesis becomes necessary."
Ok, let's look at Sri Aurobindo is saying here.
Ordinary existence or nature itself is an integral movement, but one based in ignorance ("ego and division").
The various previous yogas were not interested in transforming this world, only in finding the quickest shortcut out, selecting only a single attribute of the lower nature (prakriti) and using taht to attain the transcendent (so it could be jnana or bhakti or whatever). Hence Buddha's parable of the arrow. Why waste time discussing metaphysics when you can be working on attaining Liberation?
Sri Aurobindo's unique synthesis, Integral Yoga, in contrast has to combine all the systems. This is because he isn't interested in fleeing the world. rather he wants to transform it. But to transform it he has to address all the aspects of the lower nature, and hence incorporate all the yogic techniques. rather than just one, he has to synthesise all of them.
This means Going beyond mental understanding to a higher state of all-inclusive and all-integrating Unity. Beyond mental forms altogether, and going beyond exoteric limitations, and living and practicing a life and praxis and activism that is infused with gnosis and enlightenment and spiritual transformation of self and world at every stage. In this, Insight or Consciousness or Being is able to include all other perspectives, philosophies, religions, and aspects of being without contradiction. Not as a hierrachy, with one's own favourite philsoophy or one's own theories on the top, and all the others as lesser or more partial or primitive stages of development to that. But acknowledging them integrally as each having their own valid and equal truth. This is the explanation given by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, and to a lesser (but still intriguing) extent Jean Gebser. It is also found in the concept of the universal esoteric truth behind all religions, as advocated in the Perennialist Sufism of Frithjof Schuon.
But this cannot be discussed as theory. It can only be felt as living insight. That's why I suggest reading the original material, rather than my comments. And then come to your own experience from there.
And most important, this Insight has to be grounded in and transform the entire being, even the physical body itself.
Here is where certain elements in the integral development movement falls short. Because an integral enlightenment involves all spiritualities, not just, for example, a Westernised (or even only specifically Americanised) Buddhism. Now, I don't want to criticise it, because even a popularised and Americanised Buddhism can justly be seen as an authentic if exoteric adaptation of an ancient and valid spiritual tradition for secular Western sensibilities. And it can serve as an essential guide and invaluable aid for those who are at that level. It has its place in the universe and shouldn't be dismissed. But, for those of us who wish to go further, it has two big shortcomings.
First, it is not equal to the tradition in its complete original form. A culturally out of context and metaphysically sanitised Buddhism is not equivalent to the original power of the actual traditions themselves.
Second, even were the tradition to be presented complete, and followed with absolute intention, it still only confers individual liberation. That in itself is an amazing achievment, but it is not the entire truth. It is not yet – as Sri Aurobindo points out - a synthesis of all the systems of yoga.
So a new definition of Integral Spirituality is required, which can acknowledge not just the transcendent Enlightenment taught by the Buddha and other great sages, but also other forms of spirituality too.. And apply this not only to the self, but take it into the world as well.
What is necessary then, is to add to the already established aspects of theory, integral practice and social transformation the further dimensions of individual and collective spirtual transformation. Rather than diminish the current theory and current praxis, this will only enhance it, add a whole new dimension to things, which is non-contradictory and synergetic. In the past, spirituality was a reclusive practice that involved the rejection and denial of the world, and activism was all about changing the world but not changing the self (with the result that the revolution, began in the service of justice and freedom, always goes sour and becomes a totalitarian regime). The Integral movement presents the possibility of healing this rift in a higher synthesis; indeed, it is already beginning to do so.
An integral spirituality and integral yoga that transforms the world, and adds to the essential contributions of those working on an activist, social, media, etc level to improve the world, additional dimensions of insight, tranquility, wisdom, and centeredness.
It is not just the individual that integral spirituality has to address, it is the whole world as well.
Even the enlightenment of the physical body, and of all physical bodies, and of matter itself.
Which brings us to Divinisation.
20. Transcendent versus Evolutionary Enlightenment
The final, the greatest, the ultimate (post-post-post-whatever-) Integral consciousness, at least as far as our limited human consciousness can envisage (because there are always further and moere profound stages of evolution) is what Sri Aurobindo calls "Supramentalisation", and I refer to here as "Divinisation". This is a synthesis not just of the different yogas and spiritual teachings, but also of Evolution and Transcendence itself. This can be shown in the following table...
21. Integral as Divinisation
Defined as: going beyond transcendent enlightenment, reconciling and transcending liberation and samsara, divine transformation of the gross physical body (the body becomes an instrument of the Supreme), enlightenment of the cells, collective divinisation of the Earth, enlightenment of matter
Examples: Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, see especially Mother's Agenda and its condensed version Notebook on Evolution
Integral Divinisation means the total Divinisation of every aspect of the individual and also of the world as a whole. It comes about as the result of the Supreme with the phsyical evolution. Here we have the authentic Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, and its culmination in Supramentalisation, the Divinisation of the entire world The Lurianic Kabbalistic concept of tikkun olam ("repair of the world") is equivalent. Teilhard's "Omega Point" is similar, although Teilhard does not take into account the Divinisation of matter. More mythological and distorted refernces can also be found in Trito-Issiah ("a new heaven and a new Earth") and hence in the Judaic (whence Kabbalah) and Christian religions, and from there the New Age (also in some theologians and mystics of the Russian Orthodox tradition regarding Pantheosis; e.g. Sergei Bulgakov; and esoterically the sophiology of Bulgakov and Vladimir Solovyov is worth comparing with the concept of the Supreme Mother as found in Sri Aurobindo's teachings, as well as the transcendent Fatima described by French Iranologist and esotericist Henry Corbin) . I should emphasise however that all these earlier conceptions are really only presented through a veil of distorting religionism. It is important to get away from this extraneous theology and mental conceptions in order to preesent Divinisation in a clear manner (in this regard at least I agree with the Wilberians and their linear model of history).
Rather than trying to explain what all this means (I have presented a few comments towards the end of this essay, I will refer the reader to the only references in print of Divinisation. Only one supreme adept, Mirra Alfassa, The Mother of the Aurobindo Ashram, has described her experiences of divinisation of the body, and these serve as the most complete, and still really the only, account of the transformation to the new state of being. This is given in Mother's Agenda published by Instuitute of Evolutionary Research, and also available at several online sites. There is also an excellent condensed version Notebook on Evolution, an anonymous compilation by Luc Venet, which I cannot recommend too highly. This saves the reader the tedium of ploughing through 13 massive valumes. It is available at
See also Satprem's Mind of the Cells (which is a sort of summary of the Agenda) especially the Mother's quotes there; I find Satprem's comments on the evolution of a new species to be misleading in this context; it isn't a new species, it is a whole new Creation. Satpreme and Venet out of print Life Without Death is, I believe, clearer and more interesting (, although I would still advise reading Notebook on Evolution first and formeost.
The terminology here is confusing. Sri Aurobindo used the term "Supermind" and "Supramental", which is still standard. I feel uncomfortable with this word because it implies supra- mental, when this transformation is also supra-spiritual, supra-emotional, supra-physical, and for that matter intra-mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and everything else (words baulk at trying to grasp it). The Mother spoke not only of the Supermind and a transitional Overman consciousness (Surhomme – a word that was lost in the current translation of the Agenda; this has only recently been shown by Georges van Vrekhem in his book Overman but also of the consciousness of the body and of the cells. Her disciple Satprem popularised this latter as "the mind of the cells". Currently the French "Mind of the Cells" tradition of Integral Yoga (the works of The Mother, Satprem, his English translater Luc Venet, and the Institute of Evolutionary Research is foremost in promulgating this discovery. However it is likely that this will change; indeed is changing. On the internet, Russian devotees have been very prominant, posting the entire Agenda and works of Satprem online, and for a while (this was back in 2000) they and webmasters worldwide linking to them faced harrasment from the Institute of Evolutionary Research, which sad to say was more concerned with protecting its copyright.
But as The Mother's discovery of the physical divinisation of the body becomes better known, the collective consciousness of this possibility will spread. In this regard the books of Begian writer Georges van Vrekhem (Beyond Man and follow-up works) have been of great importance, both for revealing information previosuly hidden in obscure references, and in the fact that he presents the material from a more objective and scholarly, less devotional, approach, and hence is more appealing to the general reader.
Important note: despite some statements by Satprem to the contrary (which is why secondary material is never as good as the original!), Divinisation is not about physical immortality. That is where many people go wrong. It is about Physical Divinisation, which does not have to pander to human stereotypes of immortality etc. See "Osho, Sri Aurobindo, and Immortality" for the refutation of Rajneesh's ignorance in this regard.
22. Why is Divinisation incomprehensible to many advocates of the Integral Movement?
Divinisation is so far reaching as to be incomprehensible to many. In fact it goes radically against everything that both modernity and most of Traditionalism (with very few exceptions) stands for . I have also found a lot of resistance among Wilberians and Post-Wilberians to this insight. So this is something that even the mainstream Integral Movement, which prides itself at being at the leading edge of evolution, baulks at. It seems that in the current Integral Movement outside of Integral Yoga there is an almost total lack of receptivity to the possibility of collective Divinisation. Thus the possibility of the highest Integral definition, Individual and Collective Divinisation, is not a part of the consciousness of much of the Integral movement. There are a number of possible reasons for this
People have a knee-jerk reaction because of "new age" accesses (it's worth pointing out that one of the founders of the New Age, David Spangler, has since distanced himself from the whole thing). But for all its sloppy thinking and commercialism, the New Age itself is an authentic, if mostly superficial, syncretic religious movement with seeds of profound truths mixed among the mud. This includes imperfect and distorted insights even of divinisation. The New Age is really a protest against, and alternative to, physicalism and scientism on the one hand, and exoteric religion on the other. I also argue in this essay that the New Age and the Integral movement are not two different things.
that much of the Integral Movement is lacking in gnosis, and hence unable to comprehend authentic esoteric concepts, or insights provided by Integral Yoga. Wilber himself (I'm mentioning him here because he's still the single most influential person in the Integral Development stream; maybe in the future that will change) is limited to the old and from this perspective obsolete yogas of individual liberation, hence his interest in Advaita, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhism. People attracted to Wilber will generally be inclined to be attracted to that sort of spiritual path as well. Therefore they will not be attracted to, indeed will tend to reject, any teaching concerning the metaphysical transformation of this world. This is not to deny of course that there are many people in the sphere of the Integral Movement sensu stricto who are inspired by other spiritual or religious systems, e.g. non-dogmatic Christian. Again, Wilber's popularity is precisely because what he says is so tame, so non-threatening to mainstream materialism and agnosticism, in many ways a form of crypto-materialism, as indicated by his "post-metaphysical" (actually anti-metaphysical) stance. This attracts those ofa more sceptical and quasi-physicalist worldview. To talk metaphysics is confronting to someone of a secular mindset, used to only surface realities.
The Integral Stage of Consciousness, as defined in the Integral Movement, may not yet be advanced enough to appreciate concepts like Supramentalisation, which only become comprehensible many stages further on. In short, Divinisation, like occultism, like metaphysics and ontology, is likely to be rejected by Integral mainstream for the same reason it is rejected by the secular (modernist stage) mainstream, and the exoteric religious (traditional stage) mainstream. Encountering something radically new and different can be very threatening, especially if it so dramatically contradicts everything that modernity tells us about how the world works. The bulk of the Integral movement has not yet reached the level in which it can deal with these concepts. So perhaps what I am talking about here is not just integral, bnot even just post-integral, but post-post-post-(etc)-integral. Integral to the nth degree.
Add to all this an entrenched misunderstanding of what Supramentalisation means. Although dialogue (such as AUM 2007) is leading to a broader Integral synthesis, and this has to be a good thing, the mainstream Integral Movement, while sincere, has absolutely no conception of Aurobindonian-Mirran concepts like Surrender to the Supreme and Supramentalisation.
In this regard, the well-meaning references to Sri Aurobindo (conveniently never or almost never to The Mother) by Wilber, Michael Murphy, Andrew Cohen, Allan Combs, Craig Hamilton, and others are not just useless, they are positively a force of delusion and falsehood, because of the misconceptions they popularise. So there simply is no foundation for Integral Yoga concepts anywhere at all in the Integral Movement sensu stricto. I see the fault here in the influence of the Intellectual Aurobindonian stream. It is the responsibility of Integral Yogis to provide an authentic account, rather than let Integral Yoga and the revelations of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother be hijacked by an uncomprehending modernity. And in this respect, despite all their other admirable and inspiring advances, much of the mainstream Integral Movement is still very much in the sphere of modernity (by which I would include modernism-postmodernism-integral), despite their claims to the contrary
I will add one more thing, which will be apparent to anyone who reads the Agenda, or Notebook on Evolution with sincerity and receptivity, but will be absurd to someone only coming at things from the surface consciousness.
Divinisation has not just been attempted but actually attained. This force is working in the world now, on the subtle level. All that remains is for it to be established in the gross physical. This is such a radical statement that it seems nonsensical if you haven't contacted the esoteric reality behind the words. But I see no reason why I should try to accomodate the metaphysically dwarfish perspectives of secular modernity. I'll leave my more conservative contemporaries to do all that compromising and kowtowing...
And if I do advocate Sri Aurobindo and The Mother (the latter as we have seen is rarely mentioned, no doubt because of her pragmatic and down to earth, no nonsense approach to spirituality, occultism, and the yoga of transformation) as the highest and most integral of all, it is not out of cultic naivity (which is the opposite of any authentic higher spirituality). Rather it is because in all the almost 30 years of studying esoteric and spiritual teachings, I have still yet to come across anyone more inclusive, or who taught a more awesome and universal message of transformation, perfection, enlightenment, divinisation, not just of one aspect of the individual being, but of every aspect of the individual being (including those qualities like the physical body and the base desires that are rejected by most other spiritualities); not just of every aspect of the individual being, but of every aspect of the collective as well. And ultimately, of the whole cosmos. And not just taught it as some fascinating but still abstract intellectual theory or visionary revelation. But actually lived it. Lived it.
M. Alan Kazlev is a self-taught esotericist and metaphysician, science fiction writer and fan, amateur biologist and palaeontologist, and student of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's teachings and yoga. His website is at and he can be contacted at alankazlev (at) ihug (dot) com (dot) au (sorry – problems with spam!). For Integral World he has written two series of essays on integral philosophy: Towards a Larger View of Integral (4 Parts) and Integral Esotericism (8 Parts). In the following essay he gives on overview of the integral landscape. Selected Bibliography Gary Hampson “Integral Re-views Postmodernism: The Way Out Is Through” Integral Review 4, 2007

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