Soon after his arrival in Pondichery in 1910, Sri Aurobindo began a diary in which he recorded the progress of his experiences and experiments in yoga in terms of seven lines of transformative practice, which he called the sapta chatushtaya (loosely translated as the Seven Quartets). The diaries, written for his personal use and often in a type of shorthand following his own classification, were published many years later in two volumes as Record of Yoga. Banerji outlines the system comprising these seven aspects of yogic practice – peace, power, knowledge, body, being, action, and integration –, pointing out correlations and elaborations in some of Sri Aurobindo's later writings, such as The Synthesis of Yoga, The Mother, and his last written prose work, The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth. He also brings into focus modern streams of psychological philosophy and firmly situates the system presented in the Seven Quartets as a transformational yoga psychology.
This is a difficult book, but one well worth the effort of reading. It has three main aims, all complex and deep: the first is to present the aims and nature of Sri Aurobindo's yoga as described in his Record of Yoga
, his yogic diary; the second is to examine his Integral Yoga in the wider context of Indian yogas and spiritual philosophies; and the third is to examine certain facets of Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga in relation to the concepts articulated by various Western philosophers. There is no doubt that the author has an excellent grasp of all three of these difficult subjects. Viewing the work from what I might claim to be a fairly strong grounding in Sri Aurobindo's thought, but not quite as strong in Western philosophy, I would say that the author was quite successful with the first and second aims, but less so with the third. I often had difficulty following the author's comparisons with Western philosophical and psychological concepts, in part because there were just so many different philosophers and philosophies discussed in relation to such a wide assortment of ideas that it was hard to get an overall perspective on all this material, and in part because the descriptions of Western philosophical concepts seemed highly abstract and condensed. In contrast, I found the parts describing the concepts in the Record of Yoga
much more accessible, and though the language used to describe them may also be difficult for readers less acquainted with them, these concepts are presented more leisurely, with fuller explanations, and so they are easier to digest. In addition, the structure of the Integral Yoga described in the Record of Yoga
is nicely organized into "seven quartets," and this structure helps in comprehending it overall and in relating the parts to each other. The author has capitalized on this guiding structure by including helpful tables that summarize and organize the ideas.
Let me elaborate a bit more on each of the three main aims of the book. The Record of Yoga
was Sri Aurobindo's diary of his yoga that he wrote primarily between 1912 and 1920. The manuscripts that comprise the Record of Yoga
were found relatively recently and first published as a book in 2001. These personal diary notes were presented in a difficult form with much Sanskrit terminology, brief notes on various experiences, and sometimes more systematic reviews of his ongoing progress in the various aspects of his sadhana
. Some other writings which helped to describe the overall structure of his sadhana
were included as an Introduction to the Record of Yoga
. In the present book, the first aim has been to present the overall structure of this yoga, a concise yet accessible explanation of the 28 parts of the seven quartets, some of which are further elaborated into additional components. The seven quartets are the quartets of Perfection, Peace, Power, Knowledge, the Body, Being, and Action, which are well described in a chapter devoted to each. There follows an important chapter called "Attitudes of Self-Discipline," which discusses major threads running through many of the quartets and integrating them, attitudes such as aspiration, sincerity, purification, equality, constant remembrance and surrender. Another chapter enlarges upon the quartet of pure Being and its relation to Knowledge, discussing concepts such as Brahman, the one and the many, the personal and the impersonal, and the Master of the Yoga. The final chapter elaborates further on the quartets of action, power and enjoyment, all of which are connected to the life-affirming nature of the yoga. The Synthesis of Yoga
, Sri Aurobindo's main formal text on the Integral Yoga, is organized and formulated quite differently from the Record of Yoga
. Though most of the components of the seven quartets appear there, they are presented in a different language and organizational structure. Some of these components are also elaborated in Sri Aurobindo's other works, and the author refers to these works as he discusses and explains the system of yogic practice found in these early diaries of Sri Aurobindo. In summary, this book successfully renders the main concepts of the Record of Yoga
accessible and understandable, and thus gives a useful new perspective on the Integral Yoga.
The second stated aim was to place Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga in the wider context of Indian Yoga. This seemed to me a minor endeavor of the book, with relatively few pages devoted to it, and yet I was struck at times with new insights about the Integral Yoga's relation with the other Indian yogas and philosophies. For example, the first chapter describes Sri Aurobindo's yoga in relation to Vedanta, Samkhya, Tantra and Patanjali's Yoga and illuminates these relations with its twin goals of mukti
(liberation) and bhukti
(enjoyment). These two goals are found again and again in the structure of the seven quartets, and in several of the quartets two aspects are focused on mukti
, and two aspects are focused on bhukti
, the latter being associated with the acceptance and divinization of earthly life. The book also covers many of the central concepts of Sri Aurobindo's spiritual philosophy as described in The Life Divine
; it is not focused exclusively on yoga or yogic practice. These philosophical concepts, which are not merely concepts but spiritual experiences or potentially verifiable experiential realities, are also illuminated in many of the comparisons with the Western philosophies. At some points in my reading I was struck more profoundly than ever with how new and radically different Sri Aurobindo's teaching is from the traditional yogas which tend to focus exclusively on mukti
, or spiritual liberation.
The third aim of the book focuses on showing how Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga compares with and relates to various Western philosophies, especially those of Hegel, Nietzsche, Bergson, Husserl, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze, with a special emphasis on the last, who articulated many concepts similar to those of Sri Aurobindo. While it was obvious that the author has a close familiarity with these writings and is facile at extracting their primary ideas and comparing them and locating them in the development of philosophical thought, it seemed to me that he assumes too much from the reader in this respect. Although the introduction to the book provides a brief introduction to these philosophers and their related conceptions, I felt that there was a vast reservoir of knowledge hidden below and behind his various assertions about their philosophies which remained unarticulated and thus might often leave readers like myself scratching their heads. There is also a specific style of language and terminology used in these discourses in which the author is clearly expert, but which is a bit daunting to take in alongside the complexity of terms and conceptions articulated in the Record of Yoga
. Still, I would not say that this material was completely intractable; I did learn useful things about these philosophies, and, even more importantly, was struck by their profundity and the similarities that many of them have to Sri Aurobindo's views on various matters. In addition, it is quite likely that many readers would have had a better preparation in Western philosophy than I, and with a good introductory background in these philosophies might find these comparisons more illuminating. I do believe that this third aim of the book is an important and necessary one, for it relates Sri Aurobindo's thought and yoga to present-day ideas and philosophies, and thus to modern humanity's self-conception and its conception of the world and its future. It is to be hoped that in future works the author might articulate these relations of Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga to Western philosophy in a more elaborated manner, more accessible to lay readers.
Larry SeidlitzLarry was formerly a research psychologist in the U.S.A.; he now works at the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research in Pondicherry facilitating online courses on Sri Aurobindo's teachings.