Review of corresponding English title The Practice of the Integral Yoga
Often, after the first flush of discovering Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the question arises how does one practice their yoga? If we are accustomed to any traditional understanding of yoga, it is some formula which we seek, a method and schedule of asanas and pranayama, meditation and/or mantras. A bewildering profusion of such routines has been developed over the centuries in India (and now abroad) and tagged with different names each promising the shortcut to "realization." To some it is almost a shock to realize that no such esoteric formula, given in secret to initiates has been provided by Sri Aurobindo or the Mother and many are likely to look askance at this absence as a sign of the impracticality of this yoga. Indeed, the Integral Yoga has deliberately avoided the formulae of routine methods and shortcuts. In The Synthesis of Yoga
, while writing about the processes of the traditional yogas, Sri Aurobindo says: "[T]he methods of the integral Yoga must be mainly spiritual, and dependence on physical methods or fixed psychic or psycho-physical processes on a large scale would be the substitution of a lower for a higher action." What then are these "spiritual methods" and their "higher action" that Sri Aurobindo is referring to?
In the opening sentence of his mantric text The Mother
, Sri Aurobindo introduces the twin sources for all methods in the Integral Yoga: "There are two powers that alone can effect in their conjunction the great and difficult thing which is the aim of our endeavour, a fixed and unfailing aspiration that calls from below and a supreme Grace from above that answers." The aspiration that calls from below comes from our inmost being, also known as the psychic being. The Grace from above that answers is the action of the Divine Mother. Instead of trying to control or transform prakriti by the methods of prakriti, the aim of the Integral Yoga is more one of invoking the action of the psychic purusha, at first through its influence on the mental-vital-physical complex and then directly through its emergence and control of the entire nature. Simultaneously, it is one of openness and trust in the force of the Divine Mother entering into and working on the different parts of the being and spiritualizing them in collaboration with the psychic action. The "methods" of this yoga then are better seen as those arising spontaneously and dynamically from the dual action of the psychic being and the Mother.
Another reason for avoiding the formulaic methods and routines of traditional yogic practice is the fact that the Integral Yoga is a customized process of Self-discovery and expression and such a process unfolds itself uniquely given the specific proclivities of the individual. This is what makes Sri Aurobindo describe his yoga through the varied windows of Knowledge, Works, Love and Self-Perfection in The Synthesis of Yoga
, acknowledging that our approach can be through any one or a combination of these depending on our soul-type, but that whatever the approach, it must widen eventually to take in the fruits of realization of all other approaches.
But granted the undesirability of stereotypical practices, are there not any guidelines or starting points to follow before one can become aware of the hidden action of the psychic being and the Mother's force? How even can one open to these sources of the yoga and how can one be sure of their action? Such questions are natural and both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have given us ample leads in this direction. The Mother's talks have innumerable incisive pointers on the practice of the Integral Yoga, but for the overall theory of its practice we have to turn to Sri Aurobindo. Answering a disciple's question once on how he could be led to the realization of the Mahashakti, the Mother replied simply: "I do not know of any guru better than Sri Aurobindo to lead one to the Mahashakti."
The three major texts by Sri Aurobindo which open for us the how-to of the yoga are The Synthesis of Yoga
, the Letters on Yoga
and The Mother
. These three texts can give us all we need in the way of guideposts of practice. But it has been said that many find Sri Aurobindo's writings difficult of approach and need pre-digested servings before they can get to his works. Thus many have found the talks and writings of M. P. Pandit particularly helpful. Another approach has been compilations of the Master's and Mother's writings, letters and talks. A. S. Dalal's continuing series has served this purpose, as have the compilations specifically made to explain the practice of the yoga. Three works of this kind making substantial use of Sri Aurobindo's letters are Bases of Yoga
, A Practical Guide to Integral Yoga
and The Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo's Teaching and Method of Practice
Now into this pool of literature meant to make the practice of the Integral Yoga more accessible, has come Jugal Kishore Mukherjee's The Practice of the Integral Yoga
. This work is not a compilation of Sri Aurobindo's letters on yoga or of the Mother's talks; nor is it a primer of yoga practice in the style of M. P. Pandit. Yet, in a way, it is all these and more. Springing from the author's many years as a teacher at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, its prose is marked by the friendly enthusiasm of sharing though hardly lacking in the analytical rigor for which Jugal Kishore has become well known. At 350 odd pages, the paperback is not verbose, is easy to read, perceptive and practical. Best of all, it brings together some of the most helpful quotes from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, weaving them into its text in contextual ways which make them much more potent than in their isolated placement in compilations.
In its organization of materials, the book displays the working of an incisive selecting intuition which picks out the most relevant aspects from all the major yogic works of Sri Aurobindo to form its chapters. Thus, though the contents of the chapters derive their effectiveness largely from quotes taken from Sri Aurobindo's letters and the Mother's talks, the focus and logic of the chapters seem to be drawn from The Mother
and The Synthesis of Yoga
. In this, it appears the author gives primacy of position to The Mother
as the principal practical text of the Integral Yoga a refreshing and penetratingly direct approach seldom seen before in books of this kind.
After spending the first two chapters developing, from the Mother's practical hints, some basic daily attitudes and habits of sadhana (corresponding to the yamas
of other schools, though much more subtle and psychological in this case), the author launches into eight chapters based on the approaches developed by Sri Aurobindo in The Mother
. The first five of these chapters elaborate on the famous triple formula of "aspiration, rejection and surrender." In the process the author clarifies context and specialized sense pertaining to these terms and repeatedly invokes the key inner movements of the yoga. For example, before embarking on a discussion of surrender (Ch. VII, "On Self-surrender to the Divine"), the author prepares the ground by interposing a chapter "On Opening and Receptivity." In this chapter, the primacy of these two terms "opening" and "receptivity," which Sri Aurobindo evokes as central in The Mother
is discussed so as to awaken the reader to their meaning, importance and inner intuition. Quotations such as the following abound, which leave one in no doubt that (1) this yoga is done not by one's unaided effort but by reliance on the Mother's Force; and (2) becoming aware of the working of the Mother's Force as soon and as completely as possible is among the most important necessities of this yoga: "By remaining psychically open to the Mother, all that is necessary for work or Sadhana develops progressively, that is one of the chief secrets, the central secret of the Sadhana."
After these chapters on aspiration, rejection and surrender, the author returns to the first line of The Mother
(which I have quoted earlier in this review). The two powers "that alone can effect ... the aim of our endeavour," the "call" and the Grace, are here taken up in separate chapters. In chapter VIII, the author engages in a most interesting and illuminating discussion relating to the "call" vis-à-vis prayer. The forms of and differences between aspiration and prayer are here brought out in bold relief. Grace is dealt with in two succeeding chapters "How to Invoke the Divine's Grace?" and "Personal Effort and the Divine Grace." This focus on Integral Yoga as seen through The Mother
is then followed by chapters which elaborate the sadhana as dealt with in The Synthesis of Yoga
Here, the discussion revolves at first around the Yoga of Works, then the Yoga of Love and then the Yoga of Knowledge. Important elements of these aspects of sadhana are brought together in these chapters, such as the problem of right action in the Yoga of Works, the place of human relationships in the Yoga of Love and practical and legitimate aspects and methods for meditation in the Yoga of Knowledge. The development and transformation of the will, the premier importance of equality and its constant practice and the meaning and methods of psychic awakening are succeeding concerns considered in following chapters before approaching the perfection of the mental-vital-physical-subconscient instrumentality of the sadhaka.
The perfection of the human instrumentality is a specific concern of the Integral Yoga not usually addressed by other spiritual paths. The necessity for perfecting the instruments arises in this yoga because it envisages a divine life on earth. For this a divine consciousness is not enough, a divine expression through divine instruments is also necessary. Sri Aurobindo deals with this aspect of the yoga in the section on the Yoga of Self-Perfection in The Synthesis of Yoga
. Jugal Kishore addresses these instruments of experience and expression in the concluding chapters of his book. These are divided unambiguously into "Sadhana of the Mind", "Sadhana of the Vital", "Sadhana of the Body" and "Sadhana During our Body's Sleep". Each of these forms of consciousness is given a clear exposition, using an analytical intelligence and perceptive quotes. Particularly the sadhana of the body brings out the place of physical transformation in the Integral Yoga its difficulties and its glorious future. Considering the earlier masterful full-length study The Destiny of the Body
by the author, the chapter on the sadhana of the body here receives a clear and concise treatment.
The book finishes with a chapter on the hostile forces and how to overcome them and a last one on the right attitude to take towards the circumstances of life (framed as the question "Is All that Happens in Life Always for the Best?"). All in all, I have no hesitation in saying that this is one of the best books written by anyone other than Sri Aurobindo or the Mother addressing the practice of the Integral Yoga. The themes it marshalls, its organization of chapters, the profusion of its carefully selected quotes and the easy and clear flow of its logic makes it perhaps the most comprehensive, approachable and useful study to the serious person interested in practicing the Integral Yoga. It is difficult to fault, with the minor exception of its sometimes over-analytical temper an occasional idiosyncrasy of its author which asserts its mental interference, though rarely, in the otherwise luminous clarity of unfoldment.
Debashish Banerji is the president of the Sri Aurobindo Center of Los Angeles, USA.