In the present work an attempt is made to compare some important ideas of Transpersonal psychotherapy with Sri Aurobindo’s integral Yoga with the intention to structure some of the material and to gain more insight into their respective views. Nevertheless, the subject is so wide that it is almost impossible to deal in detail with everything that falls within its scope, and this work is therefore not an exhaustive study of the whole movement of Transpersonal psychotherapy or of the complete works of integral Yoga psychology. It only attempts to explore some points of convergence as well as divergence between the two views without opposing both by an antagonistic versus.
In pursuing this purpose a preliminary warning may be in order; the reader has to understand Sri Aurobindo in the context of his vision and spiritual attainments, and this study does not attempt to reduce Sri Aurobindo’s psychology to the transpersonal standards and views. Throughout this work we are dealing with two different but often overlapping psychologies. Both views base their psychology on authentic experience, but Sri Aurobindo does not always present his intuitive vision in Western psychological language; he expresses his insights largely in the language of Indian metaphysics based on spiritual intuition, whereas the transpersonal intuitive reflections about the ultimate reality are more based on rational speculations.
Comprising of eight chapters this study commences with a general introduction to psychotherapy, exploring the fundamentals about the nature and aim of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy as an art and science of healing human suffering aims at gaining increased self-knowledge and insight, enabling the individual to evolve new patterns of behaviour which are more supportive for his present development. However, psychotherapy is not restricted to the medical treatment of psychological illnesses, it simultaneously aims at the development of the highest human potentials in a psychologically well-integrated individual.
The second chapter offers a comprehensive overview of the current forms of psychotherapy. Transpersonal psychology integrates the mainstream of Western psychotherapeutic insights into the transpersonal approach, and it is therefore essential to briefly explain the central ideas of various psychotherapies in order to understand some of the basic concepts of Transpersonal psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is changing rapidly in its working methods and it is therefore not possible to explore all its ideas and its various techniques. The limited scope of this presentation does not permit the author to attempt an all-comprehensive upto date overview of all the various forms of psychotherapy. In trying to summarize the major fields of psychotherapy there will be some areas that are given insufficient attention or even ignored altogether. With inevitable basis of the author only those influential theories are selected which clearly illustrate a particular system and which are relevant for this study.
The third chapter attempts to render a critical and constructive account of the transpersonal approach. The author introduces some of the characteristics of spiritual growth in relation to psychotherapy before examining a variety of topics and issues related to transpersonal psychology/psychotherapy. The same chapter also elaborates various techniques used in Transpersonal psychotherapy in order to realise transpersonal potentials, and he concludes this chapter with a comparison between Transpersonal psychotherapy and spiritual discipline.
In the fourth chapter different theories of various leading transpersonal psychologists are briefly discussed. He critically examines and elucidates the views of A. Maslow, R. Assagioli, K. Wilber, S. Grof and M. Washburn.
Chapter five offers an exposition of the chief characteristics of Sri Aurobindo’s integral psychology. Besides presenting some insight into the psychological dimensions of Sri Aurobindo’s vision and the aim of his integral Yoga, this chapter also gives a full account of the psycho-spiritual constitution of man. It is through the practice of Yoga that the seeker discovers the extraordinary complexity of his own multi-layered being.
The sixth chapter describes in detail various aspects related to Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual practices (sadhana). After introducing at length the foundation of sadhana the author defines the three constituent elements of Yoga in sadhana as well as the three means to the object of sadhana. The terms integration and transformation are given a comprehensive explanation as they are the central object of Sri Aurobindo’s intergral Yoga.
In the seventh chapter Sri Aurobindo’s sadhana is compared with the transpersonal approach. The author relates the various forms of psychotherapy, as discussed in the second chapter, with Sri Aurobindo’s integral psychology after which he examines the underlying connections and dissimilarities between Transpersonal psychology and integral Yoga psychology as well as Transpersonal psychotherapy and integral sadhana. He finishes this chapter with various psychological problems inherent in the process of spiritual development.
The last chapter provides a condensed view of various leading transpersonal psychologists in relation to Sri Aurobindo’s visions. He critically evaluates the nature of metaphysics in integral Yoga and Transpersonal psychology, concluding this last chapter with a final confrontation.
This book is pre-eminently intended for all those seekers on the way who seek for unity in a divided art of healing. In the author’s personal search into the meaning of human existence, through an introspective process of replacing old boundaries and surveying new ones, he indicates and examines various pros and cons involved on the journey to inward continents and self-discovery. During this process the seeker is bound to find a bewilding set of ideas and techniques in the exploration of the various theories and procedures in psychotherapy and spiritual disciplines. The voyage to spiritual fulfilment through inner exploration of the unknown—in terms of predictability—does hardly create any guarantee of security, and this book does not offer an easy escape route but confronts the reader with the realities of the present human state, placing this state within the context of the transpersonal movement and the integral psychology as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo.
As the reader moves through the various systems of psychotherapy and integral sadhana he hopefully gains a wider understanding of the two views and a deeper curiosity and appreciation of the complexity of human nature.
Throughout this work I use the gender he rather than the he/she format as this becomes too cumbersome and distracts from smooth reading. However, each and every seeker is viewed as a Being who transcends gender.
I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the many individuals who helped me in this study; to Dr. A. S. Dalal, clinical psychologist of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, for his initial encouragement to write this work.
I am specially indebted to Dr. R. Jagannath for scrutinizing this manuscript thoroughly, and for drawing my attention to some factual errors in the original work. His detailed comments helped me to refine some ideas as expressed in this work.
I am also very grateful to Dr. Ananda Reddy for taking the trouble of going through the work in manuscript form in the later stages. His critical reading resulted in some clarifying explanations and valuable suggestions.
However, it must be clear that the responsibility of the validity of the interpretation of concepts as presented in this book rests solely with the author.
A special debt of gratitude is reserved for the staff members of Bureau Central; through them I was able to gain some insight into the working methods of Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram.
I feel obliged for Ms. Anita Frenkena’s library card of the University of Amsterdam. This academic support has helped me immeasurably as it provided me with most of the literature used in this work.
I cannot fail to mention the gracious work of Ms. Latha Govindan who patiently and expeditiously typed the corrections and final draft of this work.
Lastly, I take this opportunity to express my special thanks to the one without whom this work would not exist, the Mother.
A Final Confrontation
Transpersonal psychology, in changing the contents of psychology, continues to smuggle the spiritual realm into the reductionistic-mechanical psychological realm, using the processes of the post modernistic worldview to prove its valid existence. All transpersonal psychologists struggle with the issues of mechanistic science in order to avoid rejection by the so called mainstream of Western civilization.
In exploring issues such as introspection, intuition, subjectivity and spirituality, the transpersonal psychologists move beyond the mechanistic model of the scientist, but they nevertheless hold on to and use methods and assumptions of modem science in order to prove the validity of these phenomena which cannot be studied by empirical methodology alone.
Science for Sri Aurobindo is nothing else than a support for the mind, and extremely practical and useful in dealing with physical energies in the material world. But while these practical aspects of science are valid in their own field, they do not represent the whole truth of things. The scientist, finding out more and more about the processes of the physical field, may now be able to go forward to a more open repossession of mental and psychic knowledge.
Before arriving at supraphysical certitudes the seeker still has to adhere to the rigorous methods of science, though not to its purely physical instrumentation. This supraphysical has another method of verification than that of the physical; its inner method of verification by its very nature cannot be referred to the physical.
Science in its attempt to explain the supraphysical by the physical is limited by the usual vice of the scientist’s intellect. Only when the intellect surrenders itself to the Divine can it be a means of reception of the Light and an aid to the supraphysical experience.
The supraphysical is as real as the physical, in the latter the scientist is able to trace the processes of matter, whereas in the former the seeker is able to discover all that is behind the material surface, the Self, but also the spiritual way of knowledge and action. An integral solution requires the knowledge of both realms.
The preoccupation with physical existence is at the beginning necessary but it is only a preliminary step in the growth of his whole being. After the first necessary foundation in life and matter the seeker has to expand, deepen and widen his consciousness in order to penetrate into the essential nature of the individual and the universe, i.e., the Divine Reality. According to Sri Aurobindo, “The Yogin’s aim in the practical sciences, whether mental and physical or occult and psychic, should be to enter into the ways of the Divine and his processes”.10 Spirituality does not cut at the root of science but lifts it out of its limitations and compels it to perceive the divine intelligence and will in the material universe. Such a science which turns its face towards the Divine must be a new science which deals directly with the forces of the life-world and the mind, so as to arrive at what is beyond Mind.
K. Wilber in his quest for a new comprehensive paradigm meaningfully tries to expose empirical science, philosophy, psychology and transcendental religion, fit them together to form a unified worldview which is in accordance with empirical science, and unravel some of the major obstacles to the emergence of such a paradigm.
He wants to integrate the empirical (physical), rational (mental), and the spiritual (transcendental) realms in his new paradigm. “We honour all spheres best by their respective tasks understanding their respective spheres”.” Each level is valid and useful in its own field or realm and each on its own has its respective role but cannot form a complete worldview, i.e., each part cannot play the whole.
For Sri Aurobindo the real truth lies in the laws of the Spirit and only the Spiritual realm is of primary importance, all other realms are not equally valid; they are only means for the expression of the Spirit. In his spiritual insights he classifies science, religion, philosophy, psychology, etc, as secondary processes making them subservient to spirituality. But according to Wilber such an opinion may lean towards absolutistic views and metaphysical rigidity. Spiritual insights in Wilber’s paradigm have meaning only in so far as they are related to the Spiritual realm, the latter does not prove the existence of the physical or mental realm. In a similar way the empirical phenomenal evidences are not able to prove the Spiritual realm, unless their instruments of investigation or methodology are changed into contemplative and spiritual disciplines.
Actually the higher realm commits a fallacy when it attempts, by itself, to fully grasp the lower realm and vice versa. In the transcendental realm, the methodology of empirical-analytical science cannot be applied, like Sri Aurobindo’s ‘reason’ which is powerless in understanding spiritual Truth. The higher (transcendental) science is based on noumena of the transpersonal area, on nonverbal insights revealed by the superconscious and therefore related to contemplative proofs rather than empirical or rational proof.
For Wilber, Transpersonal psychology transcends the physical and mental level. However, in its investigations it uses both levels and as such it is not a science but “a state-specific enterprise”.
But unfortunately Wilber when admitting sensory, intellectual and spiritual experiences in the physical, mental and spiritual realms respectively, advises Transpersonal psychologists to restrict the term empirical to its original meaning,—”knowledge grounded in sensory
experience”—to avoid ambiguities with strict empirical scientists, who otherwise would reject their results. In bringing on par Transpersonal psychology with the modern scientific methodical approach Wilber seems to mix up the contemplative realm with the empirical realm in order that the former be accepted by the latter, forcing an artificial reconciliation of the eternal transpersonal realm with the temporal scientific (sensory) realm. But later on he admits that, “mysticism itself is too profound to be hitched to phases of empirical scientific theorizing. Let them appreciate each other, but premature marriages usually end in divorce”.
Transpersonal psychology, in rejuvenating the spiritual traditions of the West through a synthesis of Eastern and Western traditions and in maintaining true integration, should not merely accept the fundamental reality of the Spiritual realm, but in its investigations it should also establish a more solid spiritual foundation exploring the ultimate divine nature of man.
In exploring the ultimate divine nature of man Sri Aurobindo maintains that humanity is not the highest godhead, God is more than humanity, but in humanity too we have to find Him, i.e., to serve God’s ways upon earth and fulfil the Godhead in man. According to Sri Aurobindo “The individual as spirit or being is not confined within his humanity; he has been less than human, he can become more than human. The universe finds itself through him even as he finds himself in the universe, but he is capable of becoming more than the universe, since he can surpass it and enter into something in himself and beyond it that is absolute”.
Humanity is not satisfied with the analysis of the externalities of Nature and man’s unconquerable impulse directs him towards God. Man as a finite-seeming infinity is seeking after the Infinite and gradually becomes aware of God within him. The highest aim possible to man on earth is the discovery of the manifestation of the Divine within and without. God dwells in all, and only by becoming conscious of God within from within can humanity be saved; it is by helping others to awake to the veiled Divine within them that the sadhak goes the straight way to the creation of his Kingdom on earth.
For Sri Aurobindo modern society, whatever may be the splendour of its achievements, acknowledges only two gods; life and practical reason. The life-power in its manifestation appears to be concerned only with the physical good and vitalistic well-being of the individual and the community. Its primary impulse is individualistic and it makes social and national life a means for the greater satisfaction of the individual’s needs, interests, aggrandisement and well-being.
Science as a manifestation of practical reason aims at a cure of conflicts by carrying artificial remedies to their acme, by a more scientific organisation of life, which means that the logical reason attempts to substitute itself for complex Nature as if humanity can be saved by machinery. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, “A rational and scientific formula of the vitalistic and materialistic human being and his life, a search for a perfected economic society and the democratic cultus of the average man are all that the modern mind presents us in this crisis as a light for its solution. Whatever the truth supporting these ideas, this is clearly not enough to meet the need of a humanity which is missioned to evolve beyond itself or, at any rate, if it is to live, must evolve far beyond anything that it at present is”.
The changes taking place in the present world are mostly intellectual, the spiritual revolution throws up its waves here and there, but until it comes, all interpretations of others and the prediction of man’s future cannot be understood.
Humanitarianism which confines itself to “man above everything else” is supposed to be the highest form of self-sacrifice man is capable of, but for Sri Aurobindo to appreciate the full dignity of man the sadhak has not to deify himself to the rank of God, but to see man as a vehicle of manifestation of the Divine. For Sri Aurobindo the highest good of humanity is conditional upon the fulfilment of the Divine Will in the world. However, Sri Aurobindo accepts human nature as the sadhaks who enter the practice of integral Yoga are after all human. The human approach at the beginning and long after is full of excellent material, but this material should be utilised with the right spiritual attitude. Divinisation of humanity does not mean the destruction of human elements, but raising them, by purification and perfection, to their full power and that means the elevation of the whole of earthly life to its full power.
The transpersonal psychologist insists on the Divine becoming human rather than attempting to make the human Divine. Sri Auro-bindo’s integral Yoga is not for the sake of humanity but for the sake of the Divine which includes the individual, the cosmic and the supracosmic.
Man’s highest ideal of human life is to establish the control of a strong mind, a rational will, to master the emotions and fulfil any human capacity which is useful in life. The object of the divine life, on the contrary, is to fulfil man’s divine capacities and fulfil them in life as a true instrument of the Divine Power. In their apparent nature the two are opposed but it is man’s aim in life to solve the difficulty of harmonising the divine life with human living. The Divine is already there immanent within the seeker and it is this reality that the sadhak has to manifest; it is that which constitutes the urge towards the divine living even in this material existence.
A divine life in a material world implies a necessary union of the spiritual summit and the material base. It is possible to change the human nature into the divine or to make it an instrument of the divine when there is a union with the supreme Being, and a unity with its universal Self in all things and beings i.e., a change in the total life of humanity or a perfect collective life in the earth nature. The human journey to the divine life is characterised by the abolition of the ego but it need not exclude earthly existence; “it will take up human being and human life, transform what can be transformed, spiritualise whatever can be spiritualised, cast its influence on the rest and effectuate either a radical or an uplifting change, bring about a deeper communion between the universal and the individual, invade the ideal with the spiritual truth of which it is a luminous shadow and help to uplift into or towards a greater and higher existence”.
Sri Aurobindo maintains that the ideal of a divine humanity cannot be brought to function by religious or moral sentiments but by transcending the furthest outskirts of the mental realm. It is almost impossible to achieve a harmonious adjustment of all conflicting claims by any mental principle, formula or sentiment.
An ethical solution is therefore insufficient to solve the problem of the universe and human suffering, as it has no power to transform nature. Altruism or humanitarianism are not the first true objects of spiritual seeking, they can only be a means towards finding the Divine, but in themselves they can only be temporary or local palliatives. To serve humanity is undoubtly a lofty ideal, a divine possibility which can be made a first means of the sadhak’s growth into a spiritual unity of being with being, but until the seeker realises the Divine he serves humanity as humanity, i.e., to serve one’s ego expanded to embrance the entire human species.
At best its method is to put a wall of a relative safety around the seeker, well expressed by H. Jacobs: “Self discovery has never been an easy task … man is inclined to run away from himself; he seems more interested in his fellow-men whose lives he seeks to remedy in every way. Feeling indecisive, vague and lonely, he does not try to solve the problem … he projects himself into the outer world”.
The ethical approach has its relevance in ordinary life and in the beginning of sadhana, but later on it can only be the mark of transition, a deeper solution must be found in a surer supra-ethical dynamic principle. It is only through integral self-surrender to the Divine Will that unity and harmony can be achieved and established in the world.
For Sri Aurobindo a perfected human world cannot be created by men who are themselves imperfect; “man in himself is little more than an ambitious nothing. He is a littleness that reaches to a wideness and a grandeur that are beyond him, a dwarf enamoured of the heights. His Mind is a dark ray in the splendours of the universal Mind. His life is a striving, exulting, suffering, an eager passion … a blindly and dumbly longing petty moment of the universal Life. His body is a labouring perishable speck in the material Life. This cannot be the end of the mysterious upward surge of Nature, there is something beyond, something that mankind shall be … man’s greatness is not in what he is but in what he makes possible”.17
Philosophy, religion and science insist on a knowledge of which they are incapable—the essential nature of man and the world. “Science has only one cry, society and again society and always society. But the nature of man knows that society is only a means not an end, and that society is not the whole of life”.18 For Sri Aurobindo, man should serve society for the sake of the Self and not for the sake of society.
To characterize common civilisation, culture, education, science, religion, social laws, etc, as ineffective means to change human life, because they have no power to transform human psychology and the human race, is certainly not accepted by Transpersonal psychologists.
Sri Aurobindo is aware of those critics who oppose such a rigid standard. Those who feel only the human and not divine values may argue that his truth is likely to destroy the very foundation of morality. But Sri Aurobindo maintains that at the human level the standard of conduct may be temporary yet necessary for its time, until it can be replaced by a better standard. It is in God alone, by the possession of the Divine only that all the divisions of life can be restored and the only effective way of helping mankind is the growing of man towards the Divine. For Sri Aurobindo human tendencies and human values, however noble and good, need a metaphysical justification.
But for the transpersonalist’s “wordly” or “human” form of spirituality such a view deprives man of all his significance. Qualities like sympathy, righteousness, solidarity, true love and compassion are necessary constituents in reaching the wealth of a complete life;
they are not qualities “about” something and need not be sustained by social, moral or religious values. On the higher planes of man’s spirituality the most profound truths about these illuminative qualities resides in the depth of these qualities themselves. Descriptions of, or reflections on these unique qualities do not capture the deeper essence of them, and because many have never achieved these emotions in their deepest essence they confuse them with religious values, moral standards or social activities.
Interpreting the longings of these pure and natural human characteristics as inferior (a means only) to the ways of the Divine, subordinating the former to the supra-ethical dynamic principles, fails to imply the underlying identity between them.
In the exploration of the unknown both illuminate the essential nature of the individual’s soul and one’s world with a fresh vision. The transpersonal approach considers these universal, benevolent qualities and contemplative spiritual tendencies as equally real and therefore equally important; by uncovering and integrating the impact of both realms in an ever-evolving process human beings reflect the divine reality itself.
The transpersonal psychologist grants these human excellences in the higher stages of contemplative development a legitimate life of their own; they are not merely temporary palliatives but often man’s only route to Godhead and can therefore never be dismissed as a mark of transition, or written off as ineffectual.
For Sri Aurobindo, these transpersonal views regarding the triumph of human’s aspirations in a full and new life are certainly meaningful, but they leave out the divine origin of these human potentials, and he moves beyond the transpersonal experiences to the source of them, i.e., to God.
Man is not a self-sufficient being but supported from within and above by the divine spiritual principle. These human qualities have ultimate value only in this wider spiritual context and cannot be seperated from God.
Transpersonal psychology, in its relation with natural science acknowledges mystical/spiritual experiences as symbols which indeed points to God, though the transpersonal psychologist remains searching for the absolute ground of everything exclusively in man rather than in the Divine.
The transpersonal exploration of the mystical dimensions of life and its preoccupation with man’s spiritual aspirations for a “human spirituality” seems therefore a highly valuable self-preparation towards Sri Aurobindo’s aim and destiny of human life, i.e., the evolution of a divine humanity through the mysterious “outflower-ing” of the Divine in man.
The seeker sees the Divine not only within himself but also equally in all others. A growing inner and perfect unity with others is a necessary condition of a perfect life. Collectively they form a new perfected life in the earth-nature superior to the present individual and common existence.
However, this dynamic cosmic identity should not be mixed up with a certain form of pantheistic thought; the Divine is here not only within the individual, nor merely as cosmic Spirit or universal Power, (it depends on the cosmic Existence but is not limited by it) but the Divine is also Beyond as an eternal Transcendence. This superconscient Transcendent, as Power as well as Existence, is not something seperated from our present existence. It is this Transcendent Divine which reveals to the seeker his supreme Existence and the perfect Source of all that he is.
Despite these differences between the two views, both in their search for the higher and deeper meaning of the inner dimensions of human existence maintain that man is a never—finished product of evolution with endless potentialities for inner growth, and has the capacity to cultivate the psyche’s higher aspirations for a spiritual reality beyond the grasp of the pragmatic human intellect.