Every movement of consciousness in Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga progresses in three stages : Witness(Sakshi), Consenter(Anumanta) and Enjoyer (Bhokta). When Sri Aurobindo said, “All life is Yoga“, he did not mean “Continue to live as you are” but rather that one must first go within, recover one’s complete consciousness and then apply this newfound consciousness to worldly life. This post demonstrates how this triple movement can be applied to every activity.
Triple Movement (Witness, Consenter, Enjoyer)
The Gita utilizes the great psychological discovery of the Samkhya, the actual division between the Purusha, the witness self and Prakriti, the nature in man. This division as a fact of psychological experience is of fundamental importance. It is the beginning of the experience in which man realises that his entire being is not involved in the movement of Nature which is ignorant. He finds within himself a point where perfection in the sense of freedom from imperfect nature is already present. Step by step the witness (Sakshi) becomes the Anumanta, the giver of sanction, then he becomes the Bharta, the supporter of nature, then Bhokta, the one who enjoys the nature, and ultimately he is the Ishwar, the Lord of nature.
Witness (Sakshi): This is the stage where one develops the attitude of a witness to all movements of consciousness (See How to cultivate the state of witness-consciousness) The preliminary steps in Yoga are to recover the will-power which has been caught in habits, to detach the mind which has been entangled in the senses and to curb the fanciful imaginations of the vital being. All these things can be accomplished by proper development of the witness attitude.
Consenter (Anumanta): In this stage, one learns to exercise one’s will intelligently. It is the awakening Purusha (psychic) within which steps forward and begins to guide us in our actions.
Enjoyer (Bhokta): Enjoyer does not imply indulgence in pleasures of the senses. The state of Bhokta comes when one has achieved what the Mother called a “reversal of consciousness‘. This reversal of consciousness occurs when the inner being has been completely activated (i.e. Kundalini is fully established) and rules over the outer being. The duality of pain and pleasure is then transcended and one enjoys Rasa (delight) in all contacts with matter as Sri Aurobindo explains in this passage:
Still more significant is the power that comes on the level of spiritual Mind or Overmind to change the vibrations of pain into vibrations of Ananda: even if this were to go only up to a certain point, it indicates the possibility of an entire reversal of the ordinary rule of the reacting consciousness; it can be associated too with a power of self-protection that turns away the shocks that are more difficult to transmute or to endure. The gnostic evolution at a certain stage must bring about a completeness of this reversal and of this power of self-protection which will fulfil the claim of the body for immunity and serenity of its being and for deliverance from suffering and build in it a power for the total delight of existence. A spiritual Ananda can flow into the body and inundate cell and tissue; a luminous materialisation of this higher Ananda could of itself bring about a total transformation of the deficient or adverse sensibilities of physical Nature.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine – II: The Gnostic Being
These three stages mirror the fact that everything evolves in three steps – Ascent, Integration and Reversal of Consciousness.
- Ascent corresponds to the state of Witness where our being first rises to a Higher Plane of Consciousness.
- Integration corresponds to the state of Consenter where one tries to establish one’s being in this Higher Plane.
- Reversal corresponds to the state of Enjoyer where one tries to bring down the power of this Higher Plane into the lower consciousness.
Some examples of this triple movement
Meditation: In the first stage, the mind develops the ability to detach itself from the thought process and watch thoughts as they cross the mind. In the second movement, the Witness mind turns into the Consenter mind by extending the immobility to the entire mind and developing the ability to accept or reject a movement of thought as necessary. Further on, in the third stage, all thinking takes plane outside the brain making the silent brain merely a channel for ideation.
In this passage, Sri Aurobindo explains the distinction between the first (Witness) and the second (Consenter) stage:
In the first analysis, the mind is divided into two parts : one, whose movements are aroused by Nature ; the other which shares the nature of the Purusha and remains immobile. It is now necessary to extend the power of this immobile part to remain the witness of the changes of the other. Thought will seem to occur in front of it, and it will become aware that it is universal Nature which raises the play of thoughts. One must go towards this universalisation. Thoughts will come from outside and you will see them taking shape in you. You will also experience that you have power over them: you will be able to make a choice, refuse a movement, etc. This is the beginning of mastery. The part of the immobile mind will also have to be seen as the reflection of a vaster, more universal Purusha above you. From both sides you must free yourself from the self. You must relax the pressure you have put on the mind to succeed in mastering thought and being free from it. Insist on the witness attitude. When a thought comes, examine it, see from where it comes, follow it.
The third stage of being an Enjoyer can be illustrated as follows:
The best relief for the brain is when the thinking takes place outside the body and above the head (or in space or at other levels but still outside the body). At any rate it was so in my case; for as soon as that happened there was an immense relief; I have felt body strain since then but never any kind of brain-fatigue. I have heard the same thing from others.
Sri Aurobindo, On Himself: Thinking from Outside the Body
Food: The first stage is the development of endurance(Titiksha) where one learns to overcomes one’s preferences and eat without likes or dislikes solely for the purpose of nutrition. The second stage is where one is able to make a willed decision to refrain from eating if so required (See How to eat like a Yogi). The third stage is when the senses are ruled by the inner being and are able to accept all kinds of food, whether sweet or bitter, with the same delight (Rasa).
Conversation: In the first stage, one must be able to observe oneself talking. This is typically done by imagining that one is looking at the world not through the eyes but through the back of the head. This helps to develop a sense of Timelessness and brings about growth in consciousness. The second stage is speaking only when necessary (See Self-Control over Speech). The third stage is when the personality becomes a channel for the Divine and speech flows as necessary(see Para Vak).
Sensation of Pain: The sensation of pain can also be transcended with this triple movement. As Sri Aurobindo says in one of his aphorisms, “Pain is the touch of our Mother teaching us how to bear and grow in rapture. She has three stages of her schooling, endurance first, next equality of soul, last ecstasy” Essays Divine and Human: Jnana.
Karma Yoga: In the post Aspects of Karma Yoga, see the section on “Stages in the practice of Karma Yoga” which illustrates this same triple movement.
- A.B. Purani. Sri Aurobindo – Some aspects of his vision, p 129
- Pavitra. Conversations with Sri Aurobindo, March 10, 1926.