The liminality or negative capability required in Yoga

The path of Yoga begins with an imperfect understanding of the working of the Divine  Power which pervades the Universe, as well as the planes and parts of one’s own consciousness.   This understanding grows with spiritual experiences and expansion of consciousness.   Under such circumstances, what is crucial is the attitude of liminality or ambiguity towards Truths uttered by past prophets and passed down through extant scriptures.

What do you do when a great personality – a prophet or an enlightened master – makes an assertion?   If you accept it as true, then you are a believer.  If you reject it as false, then you are a skeptic.  The right approach is neither to believe nor disbelieve but to hold it outside the mind as a proposition which will be resolved later.  The British poet John Keats called this attitude “negative capability” (see wikipedia)  and considered it crucial for higher development.  Another word for it is liminality.

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.

(John Keats)

The spiritual path is somewhat like the path of science – one takes all ancient assertions as hypotheses and performs the Yogic experiments in order to verify the truths in the laboratory of one’s own consciousness.  In this path, the liminality in consciousness is of much value because all truths cannot be grasped at once.   Comprehension occurs gradually as the individual consciousness, hitherto limited to the physical body, expands into other realms of the Universe and experiences new states of consciousness.  It is only when one stands below a waterfall that one knows how it feels; no amount of talk can convey that experience. This is why Sri Aurobindo asked his disciples to distinguish between intellectual understanding and experiental understanding.  It is the latter that the aspirant must cultivate:

Besides there are two kinds of understanding—understanding by the intellect and understanding in the consciousness.It is good to have the former if it is accurate, but it is not indispensable. Understanding by the consciousness comes if there is faith and openness, though it may come only gradually and through steps of experience. But I have seen people without education or intellectuality understand in this way perfectly well the course of the yoga in themselves, while intellectual men make big mistakes, e.g. take a neutral mental quietude for the spiritual peace and refuse to come out of it in order to go farther.  It is necessary to curb the mind’s impatience a little. Knowledge is progressive—if it tries to leap up to the top at once, it may make a hasty construction which it will have afterwards to undo. The knowledge and experience must come by degrees and step by step.

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – III: Transformation of the Mind – I

In our daily life, we form a certain set of beliefs inferred based on how the phenomenal world operates.  These mental anchors give us the illusion and relief of  living in a stable world.  But such mental anchors are of no use in the Yogic path because the Universe does not function based on any human laws.  The only support one has in such uncharted waters is faith in the Master and a calm equality in oneself.

The integral Yoga aims at a knowledge not merely of some fundamental principle, but a knowing, a gnosis which will apply itself to and cover all life and the world action, and in this search for knowledge we enter on the way and are accompanied for many miles upon it by the mind’s unregenerated activities before these are purified and transformed by a greater light: we carry with us a number of intellectual beliefs and ideas which are by no means all of them correct and perfect and a host of new ideas and suggestions meet us afterwards demanding our credence which it would be fatal to seize on and always cling to in the shape in which they come without regard to their possible error, limitation or imperfection. And indeed at one stage in the Yoga it becomes necessary to refuse to accept as definite and final any kind of intellectual idea or opinion whatever in its intellectual form and to hold it in a questioning suspension until it is given its right place and luminous shape of truth in a spiritual experience enlightened by supramental knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – II: Faith and Shakti

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9 thoughts on “The liminality or negative capability required in Yoga

  1. Pingback: Difference between religion and spirituality « Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

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  4. Sandeep Post author

    Sri Aurobindo in Savitri, Book VII, Canto III


    Happy are men anchored on fixed belief
    In this uncertain and ambiguous world,
    Or who have planted in the heart’s rich soil
    One small grain of spiritual certitude.
    Happiest who stand on faith as on a rock.
    But I must pass leaving the ended search,
    Truth’s rounded outcome firm, immutable
    And this harmonic building of world-fact,
    This ordered knowledge of apparent things.
    Here I can stay not, for I seek my soul.”

    Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – II: The Entry into the Inner Countries

    Reply
  5. Pingback: The equipoise required for Yoga | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  6. ipi

    God Has a Sense of Humor

    Someone has asked me, “How is it possible for God to reveal Himself to an unbeliever?” That’s very funny; because if it pleases God to reveal Himself to an unbeliever, I don’t see what would prevent Him from doing so!

    On the contrary, He has a sense of humor – Sri Aurobindo has told us many times already the Supreme has a sense of humor, that we are the ones who want to make Him into a grave and invariably serious character – and He may find it very amusing to come and embrace an unbeliever. Someone who has only the day before declared, “God does not exist. I do not believe in Him. All that is folly and ignorance…..”, He gathers him into His arms, He presses him to His Heart – and He laughs in his face.

    Everything is possible, even things which to our small and limited intelligence seem absurd.

    source:

    Book:The Sunlit Path by the Mother

    http://www.auromere.com/The_Mother-Sunlit_Path.html

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Différence entre spiritualité et religion « musael

  8. mw

    This author [deceased] uses a different term describing “liminality” and the “Negative Capability” : “Hypothesis of Process”: hypothesis – A message expressing an opinion based on incomplete evidence and Process – doesn’t really need a description…. Here’s a short paragraph on topic:

    “In its role as a tool for modern thinking, the conception of process serves primarily a unifying function. It helps us see the relatedness and the ongoing connections between phenomena that look dissimilar when they are viewed externally. When we see them from within a conception of process, we are able to understand that their differences reflect their position at changing points along the path of the process, and that a connective unity underlies their apparent disparity. When many diverse phenomena are approached with the idea and hypothesis that a single line of process can be found to be connecting them, a great economy of thought and study becomes possible. Once the individual process has been identified so that its specific contents can be marked off, what was an amorphous mass of information can be quickly integrated. Things fall into place as though by themselves.” Ira Progoff, A Practice of Process Meditation [1980], page 40.

    Reply
  9. mike

    “On the contrary, He has a sense of humor – Sri Aurobindo has told us many times already the Supreme has a sense of humor, that we are the ones who want to make Him into a grave and invariably serious character – and He may find it very amusing to come and embrace an unbeliever. Someone who has only the day before declared, “God does not exist. I do not believe in Him. All that is folly and ignorance…..”, He gathers him into His arms, He presses him to His Heart – and He laughs in his face.”

    The Mother, On Thoughts and Aphorisms: Aphorism – 12

    l love it when that happens. Their smug arrogant rationalism can be wiped out in the blink of an eye. Although, some will still deny it, like the man in the Agenda who asked SA for an answer to something, then a Golden Disk entered him and he heard very specific words about what he had asked, but, said afterwards – ‘oh! that was just my unconscious’ lol

    Reply

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