(a project of Mirravision Trust, Financed by Auroshakti Foundation)

Chapter I
Chapter II - Part 1
Chapter II - Part 2
Chapter II - Part 3
Chapter II - Part 4
Chapter III - Part 1
Chapter III - Part 2
Chapter III - Part 3
Chapter III - Part 4
Chapter III - Part 5
Chapter III - Part 6
Chapter IV - Part 1
Chapter IV - Part 2
Chapter IV - Part 3
Chapter IV - Part 4
Chapter V-Part 1
Chapter V - Part 2
Chapter V - Part 3
Chapter V - Part 4
Chapter V - Part 5
Chapter VI - Part 1
Chapter VI - Part 2
Chapter VI - Part 3
Chapter VI - Part 4
Chapter VI - Part 5
Chapter VII - Part 1
Chapter VII - Part 2
Chapter VII - Part 3
Chapter VII - Part 4
Chapter VII - Part 5
Chapter VIII - Part 1
Chapter VIII - Part 2
Chapter VIII - Part 3
Chapter VIII - Part 4
Chapter IX - Part 1
Chapter IX - Part 2
Chapter X - Part 1
Chapter X - Part 2
Chapter X - Part 3
Chapter X - Part 4
Chapter X - Part 5
Chapter X - Part 6
Chapter XI - Part 1
Chapter XI - Part 2
Chapter XI - Part 3
Chapter XI - Part 4
Chapter XII - Part 1
Chapter XII - Part 2
Chapter XII - Part 3
Chapter XII - Part 4
Chapter XII - Part 5
Chapter XIII - Part 1
Chapter XIII - Part 2
Chapter XIV - Part 1
Chapter XIV - Part 2
Chapter XIV - Part 3
Chapter XIV - Part 4
Chapter XIV - Part 5
Chapter XV - Part 1
Chapter XV - Part 2
Chapter XV - Part 3
Chapter XV - Part 4
Chapter XV - Part 5
Chapter XV - Part 6
Chapter XV - Part 7
Chapter XV - Part 8
Chapter XV - Part 9
Chapter XVI - Part 1
Chapter XVI - Part 2
Chapter XVI - Part 3
Chapter XVI - Part 4
Chapter XVI - Part 5
Chapter XVI - Part 6
Chapter XVI - Part 7
Chapter XVI - Part 8
Chapter XVI - Part 9
Chapter XVI - Part 10
Chapter XVI - Part 11
Chapter XVI - Part 12
Chapter XVI - Part 13
Chapter XVII - Part 1
Chapter XVII - Part 2
Chapter XVII - Part 3
Chapter XVII - Part 4
Chapter XVIII - Part 1
Chapter XVIII - Part 2
Chapter XVIII - Part 3
Chapter XVIII - Part 4
Chapter XVIII - Part 5
Chapter XVIII - Part 6
Chapter XVIII - Part 7
Chapter XVIII - Part 8
Chapter XVIII - Part 9
Chapter XVIII - Part 10
Chapter XIX - Part 1
Chapter XIX - Part 2

A Psychological Approach to Sri Aurobindo's

The Life Divine

Chapter X Part 5

Implications of the experiential concept of Consciousness-Force

‘Consciousness’ in its pure form of Chit might have been perceived as a Reality by yogis but to the ordinary intellect it signified something too abstract and metaphysical to be relevant to psychology. The moment Sri Aurobindo explained that consciousness was impregnated with an in-built Force or Energy so that what is called CHIT is actually CHIT-SHAKTI, ‘consciousness’ became relevant to psychology as well as to other disciplines studying the interface between matter and energy. Such a step heralded momentous consequences.

At the onset, psychology was defined as the science of consciousness. But the term consciousness soon became unpopular. This was chiefly because early psychologists meant by consciousness only those aspects of mental life which could be discerned through introspection. This resulted in grouping as many elemental sensations as one could conceive, perceive and discriminate, resulting in a quixotic situation. Titchener’s laboratory discovered more than 44,435 types of sensations (largely visual and auditory cues) while Kulpe’s school pointed to a total of fewer than 12,000. The result was that terms like ‘consciousness’ and ‘introspection’ lost their significance and disappeared from dictionaries of psychology.

The first systematic attempt of psychology to look beyond the surface phenomena of life to a hidden stratum of consciousness was made by psychoanalysis, founded by Freud. Freud described the unconscious as that part of mind that lay below the surface of the conscious mind and thereby inaccessible to introspection while yet being the most powerful determinant of behaviour. Sri Aurobindo hailed the discovery as ‘the beginning of self-knowledge and which all must make who deeply study the facts of consciousness, that our waking and surface existence is only a small part of our being and does not yield to us the root and secret of our character, our mentality or our actions. The sources lie deeper. To discover them, to know the nature and the processes of the inconscient or subconscient self and, so far as is possible, to possess and utilize them as physical science possesses and utilizes the secret of the forces of Nature, ought to be the aim of a scientific psychology’.(Sri Aurobindo, The Supramental manifestation and other writings,1972 ed,pp258-59)

Behaviourism opted for strict objectivity, rejected all hypothetical constructs such as mind and consciousness and focused on observable, measurable behaviour. It looked upon mental processes as epiphenomena accompanying physiological processes. The net result was that consciousness was rejected. Watson, in 1913, reiterated this position: ‘The time seems to have come when psychology must discard all reference to consciousness… This suggested elimination of states of consciousness as proper objects of investigation in themselves will remove the barrier from psychology which exists between it and the other sciences”(Watson,J: The Psychological Review,XX,) That legacy lasted so long that even the 1984 edition of the ‘Encyclopedia of Psychology’ published by Wiley and Sons from New York contained no entries for ‘consciousness’, ‘awareness’ or introspection’.

The Re-entry of Consciousness in Psychology

By the end of the 20th Century, consciousness had regained a new place in psychology. This was the culmination of two important movements that were mainly initiated in the 1960’s

(a)    The growth of cognitivism

(b)   The growth of transpersonal psychology.


In an excellent overview, Guzeldere shows how cognitive psychology, inspired by computational models, gave re-birth to consciousness in terms completely foreign to its past- consciousness became a sort of component of information-processing models. Ongoing neuropsychological research also found it credible to study consciousness. Information-processing models were used successfully to explain learning, memory, problem –solving- almost everything except the ‘experience’ of consciousness. ‘The fact that consciousness seemed to be the last remaining unexplained phenomenon in an otherwise successful new research  paradigm helped highlight old questions about consciousness buried during the behaviourist era. Furthermore, similar developments were taking place in philosophy. Functionalist accounts, largely inspired by computational ideas, were being met with noticeable success in explaining prepositional attitudes, whereas consciousness (in the sense of the subjective character of experience, or qualia) was largely being regarded as the only aspect of mind escaping the net of functionalist explanation’ (Guzeldere, G: The Many faces of Consciousness: A  Field Guide, in The Nature of Consciousness, ed by Ned Block et al, London,1998). Sri Aurobindo had foreseen this riddle and had commented.’
‘The significance of our conscious being in an material world is the last and worst enigma’(Essays Divine and Human,,pg285).  ‘An observing and active consciousness emerging as a character of an eternal Inconscience is a self-contradictory affirmation, an unintelligible phenomenon, and the contradiction must be healed or explained before this affirmation can be accepted. But it cannot be healed unless either the Inconscient has a latent power for consciousness – and then its inconscience is phenomenal only, not fundamental, - or else is the veil of a Consciousness which emerges out of a state of involution which appears to us as an inconscience’ (Ibid, pg 289).

Cognitivism also encouraged the search for a neuropsychological basis of consciousness through unraveling of physiological mysteries. Sri Aurobindo comments: ‘To see how the body uses consciousness may be within limits a fruitful science, but it is more important to see how consciousness uses the body and still more important to see how it evolves and uses its own powers. The physiological study of the phenomenon of consciousness is only a side-issue; the psychological study of it independent of all reference to the body except as an instrument is the fruitful line of inquiry. A body using consciousness is the first outward physical fact of our existence, the first step of our evolution; a consciousness using a body is its inner spiritual reality, it is what we have become by our evolution and more and more completely are’.( Ibid,pp291-292)

The Growth of Transpersonal Psychology

The traditional schools of psychology did not deal with what was uniquely human – the striving for growth and self-development and the attainment of the higher values of life. This gap led to the rise of Humanistic psychology whose chief protagonist, Abraham Maslow, distinguished two broad types of human needs- fundamental physiological needs which are the legacy of our atavistic past and meta-needs that encompassed moral, aesthetic, intellectual  and other similar needs for self-actualization or the attainment of one’s highest potentials. Towards the end of his life, Maslow conceived of human growth even beyond self-actualization: “I consider Humanistic, third Force psychology to be transitional, a preparation for a still ‘higher’ Fourth Psychology, transpersonal, transhuman, centered in the cosmos rather than human needs and interests, going beyond humanness, identity, self-actualization, and the like.”(Maslow, A :Towards a Psychology of Being,New York,1968) This higher psychology began to take shape in the form of Transpersonal psychology since the late 1960s and has taken up for study areas like higher states of consciousness, ultimate values, highest meanings, self-transcendence, mystical experiences. A.S.Dalal, in a broad overview ( Dalal, A:Towards a Greater Psychology) points to three landmark developments beyond the boundaries of traditional psychology that have taken place as a result of the transpersonal perspective:

A. Psychology is being redefined as the study of consciousness in the deeper sense of a pluridimensional Reality that is in consonance with Sri Aurobindo’s thought where there are ranges of consciousness above and below the mind;

B. The traditional methods of psychology (introspective study of mind, observation and quantification of  behaviour, psychoanalytical probings into the unconscious) have been supplemented by experiential methods viz, meditation, use of psychedelic drugs, body techniques, music and sound etc. The new approach is more in the nature of a ‘self-knowledge psychology’ and as such one must proceed in it from the knowledge of oneself to the knowledge of others; and

C. The Ego needs to be replaced by a Beyond-Ego principle so that one can discover one’s true nature. A dis-identification from the ego leads to an awakening and development of the real personality.

The relevance of Sri Aurobindo’s Thought: Defining Psychology and Consciousness

Defining psychology

The transpersonal psychology movement echoes the seed-ideas inherent in Sri Aurobindo’s thought. Sri Aurobindo, in an incomplete manuscript written in 1927, defined psychology as ‘ the science of consciousness and its status and operations in Nature and, if that can be glimpsed or experienced, its status and operations beyond what we know as Nature’ (Essays Divine and Human, pg333). This landmark definition of psychology can be regarded as a forerunner of the transpersonal approach. This is the real nature of INTEGRAL YOGA PSYCHOLOGY. Actually this definition was a modification of a more simple definition he had penned during 1917-18: Psychology is the knowledge of consciousness and its operations.

We have elaborated in details what Sri Aurobindo means by ‘consciousness’, However, this definition also uses the term ‘Nature” with a capital N. What is indicated  by that term? Nature refers to an externally objective and superficially subjective phenomenon which manifests the creation that includes minds, lives and bodies. This Nature is not mechanical but organized by an Energy or Force, which arranges things according to their inner truth. Outwardly this Nature presents a façade of limitation and division. There is also a higher aspect of Nature that is referred in the definition as ‘beyond what is known as Nature’. This ‘Supernature’ is the source of the higher Reality, the Consciousness-Force aspect of Sachchidananda that upholds the lower Nature.

Defining Consciousness

With this background, we can now attempt to define consciousness in terms of Integral Yoga Psychology:

Consciousness can be defined as a self-aware, self-manifesting, creative force of existence, which is simultaneously the inmost reality of everything( known as ‘self’ in this poise) and the Conscious-force that builds and organizes the worlds (viz. of Matter, Life, Mind etc.) and therefore antedates the brain in evolution using it as an instrument for expression; it extends beyond the mind through the subconscious into an inconscience full of involved potentialities at one end, at the other end it rises to a Superconscience full of dynamic possibilities.

This definition of consciousness is in perfect consonance with the significance of Consciousness-Force implicit in the verses of the Upanishads quoted by Sri Aurobindo in the beginning of this chapter:

They beheld the self-force of the Divine Being sleep hidden by its own conscious modes of working. Swetaswatara Upanishad, I.3

This is he that is awake in those who sleep. Katha Upanishad, II.2.8

A Mind shall think behind Nature’s mindless mask,
A consciousness Vast fill the old dumb brute Space.
This faint and fluid sketch of soul called man
Shall stand out on the background of long Time
A glowing epitome of eternity,
A little point reveal the infinitudes.
A Mystery’s process is the universe.
At first was laid a strange anomalous base,
A void, a cipher of some secret Whole,
Where zero held infinity in its sum
And All and Nothing were a single term,
An eternal negative, a matrix Nought:
Into its forms the Child is ever born
Who lives for ever in the vasts of God.
A slow reversal’s movement then took place:
A gas belched out from some invisible Fire,
Of its dense rings were formed these million stars;
Upon earth’s new-born soil God’s tread was heard.
Across the thick smoke of earth’s ignorance
A Mind began to see and look at forms
And groped for knowledge in the nescient Night:
Caught in a blind stone-grip Force worked its plan
And made in sleep this huge mechanical world,
That Matter might grow conscious of its soul
And like a busy midwife the life-power
Deliver the zero carrier of the All.
Because eternal eyes turned on earth’s gulfs
The lucent clarity of a pure regard
And saw a shadow of the Unknowable
Mirrored in the Inconscient’s boundless sleep,
Creation’s search for self began its stir.
A spirit dreamed in the crude cosmic whirl,
Mind flowed unknowingly in the sap of life
And Matter’s breasts suckled the divine idea.
A miracle of the Absolute was born;
Infinity put on a finite soul,
All ocean lived within a wandering drop,
A time-made body housed the Illimitable.
To live this Mystery out our souls came here.

(Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, Pg. 100-101)

Date of Update: 16-Oct-12   

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu

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