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A Torch in the Dark

An Experiential & Integral Guide to our Growth

— James Anderson

Price: Rs 400

Soft Cover
Pages: 241
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
Publisher: AuroPublications, Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry
ISBN: 978-81-7060-423-5

About A Torch in the Dark

This book records the author’s practical approach to applying some of the key concepts of the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in the practice of their Integral Yoga. He explores the process of inner change in learning to quiet the mind, to deal with emotions, and to stay absorbed in the present. He tackles how to overcome difficulties such as dismantling desire, finding a way out of pain, dealing with illness, forsaking fear, lifting depression, dislodging bad habits, and understanding the nature of love and attachment. He draws on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as an inspiration and guide through the process of inner change in real-life situations.


James Anderson’s A Torch in the Dark: An Experiential & Integral Guide to our Growth is a rolling, riveting story of a spiritual aspirant, or sadhak, who has been a practitioner since 1999 of the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. As is evident from a reading of this book, he comes across as having a natural capacity for this Yoga, so much so that it seems that his progress as a practitioner is informed by almost every technique of the many that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother teach. Though it at first feels quite impossible to review the book in its fullness, there is nevertheless a continuity in it that gives a hold for a reviewer to accomplish his task.

It is not uncommon that few turn to spirituality for the sake of spirituality, rather than for the sheer adventure of it. Many people get caught up in it only when faced with adversity. True to this adage, Anderson came to this Yoga after being afflicted with a severe, life-threatening disease at the threshold of manhood, aged twenty-one years. For sixteen years after tragedy struck, however, Anderson coasted along the well-trodden grooves of ordinary life until he came to Pondicherry in 1999. There has been no turning back for him since then.

The Integral Yoga is one that offers almost every aspirant a unique entry point to the Path that leads him or her to a true spiritual life. Accordingly, the ‘Torch’ that finds mention in the title is nothing but one’s consciousness, which Anderson uses with telling effect to progress towards identifying and overcoming the obstacles he encounters in his sadhana.  Despite what the subtitle seems to suggest, Anderson’s tone throughout the book is a convivial sharing with both fellow-sadhaks and casual readers of his experiences in his practice. Even where he addresses his reader directly, apparently advising this or that step on the Path, the clear sense is there that it is his enthusiasm to share with one and all what has clearly worked for him. The numerous instances where he highlights the various routes to the goal of this Yoga makes this point forcefully. In the very first chapter, for example, he speaks of every life being an offering and celebration, and of each journey having a unique unfolding.

Anderson divides his book into four parts, each one expatiating on one or more themes of his sadhana: Initiation, Changing our Nature, Enhancing Capacities, and Over-coming Difficulties. A single thread runs in continuous fashion through these four parts: his consciousness and how he uses it to progress on his Path. It is not entirely a personal story, however, for he never loses sight of the larger implications of this Yoga for humanity—he is clearly seized with a sense of the importance of this Yoga to ‘real-world’ problems such as the current Covid-19 pandemic or environmental degradation, to mention just two instances.

In the very beginning, Anderson relates that his personal sadhana began with taming his vital, which was all awry as most of ours are. His description of the futility of trying to work on the vital through the mental being strikes a chord with the reader, especially when the latter happens to be a sadhak too. The pointlessness of using the mind – especially when it is itself yet untrained – to make demands on the vital dawned early on Anderson, and sounds familiar to anyone who has ever sincerely attempted self-improvement whether in the ordinary life or in spiritual practice. It is eminently clear here that it was only after he discovered his consciousness as a vehicle of progress that he got a secure purchase on his Way. Once he learned to concentrate in the heart with a still mind, he says, the process of the purification of the vital began to get underway.

Throughout the book, Anderson speaks of the mental, vital, and physical beings, the psychic being, other parts and planes of the being, and of course consciousness. At first blush there is an appearance of disorderliness in the random mention of these essential aspects of an individual’s make-up, but read in the context of his growing spiritual practice, we find that his discussion of them sits perfectly well. Besides, there is a handy definition of terms at the end of the book for casual readers who are not familiar with the standard terms in Integral Psychology and Philosophy.

In any event, Anderson relates that one of the first injunctions that he received from the Mother was to find his psychic being. For those on this side of the Yoga, this is no surprise since it is a well-established fact that this is the safest and surest way to progress in the Integral Yoga.  Ascents and descents he speaks of later in the book—the ascending movement of aspiration towards the Divine, and the consequent descent of the Divine Grace, both equally important for inner growth and progress. But he takes cognisance of the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s warning that these movements occur safely only after one’s psychic being is sufficiently in command over the surface nature. Pithily put, Anderson implies that what is known in this Yoga as the psychic transformation is the safest prelude for further progress on the Path in most cases, even though the ascending and descending movements can and do often accompany the process of psychic transformation.

Anderson goes into some depth on the issue of detaching oneself from surface activities and watching them from inside, a technique that the Mother and Sri Aurobindo strongly recommend to sadhaks. Anderson quotes liberally from the writings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo to demonstrate that our surface lives are tied in numberless knots around our ego, the entity that falsely makes us think that we are distinct beings separated from the rest of the universe. Although the ego has an important and necessary function in the formation of the individual, it becomes a millstone round the sadhak’s neck as soon as he enters the Path. For this ego has to be sundered by a slow and sometimes painful process once one’s spiritual journey starts. Surrender to the Divine is necessary for this process, and true surrender is extremely difficult, as Anderson points out; it is often the work of a lifetime.

As it was a physical disability that turned Anderson to Yoga, the reader is right to anticipate a full quantum of material on illness and Yoga. This he obligingly provides in the third part of his book, Enhancing Capacities. He goes into some detail about the ‘cocoon’ around the body that protects against illness, and how to strengthen and cultivate it as taught by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. In line with the founders of the Integral Yoga, Anderson lays great emphasis on the truth that the destructive power of fear tears this protective cocoon, and in one voice with them urges us to reject fear in all its forms.

Every Yoga is full of pitfalls, and this Yoga is no exception. Accordingly, Anderson too writes on some of the pitfalls to beware of, and how to avoid them. For example, in the section on love and attachment, he distinguishes their characteristics, showing how love, which is divine in origin, is not just superior to attachment, but necessary to cultivate the right frame of mind and heart for the sadhana.

In telling the story of how he came to this sadhana and in writing his ‘report card’ until the time of this book’s publication, A Torch in the Dark provides an engaging read for anyone casting about for something above the humdrum whirr of the ordinary life. And in particular, it is a worthwhile read for fellow-practitioners, just to compare notes if for nothing else. No doubt new spiritual aspirants will find this book doubly worthwhile because it clues them into what lies in store for them if they choose to plunge into this Yoga.

—Sivakumar Elambooranan

Sivakumar was an academic philosopher who has now turned to writing. After living abroad for some years, he has settled in his native Pondicherry, where he is associated with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.


Reviewed in February 2022