Religious, mechanical and psychological methods of self-realization

The Mother Mirra Alfassa offers a taxonomy of the various methods of self-realization that have been developed.  This article has been synthesized from three of her recorded talks.

Tibet. Himalayas. by Nicholas Roerich 1933. Tempera on canvas. Click image for source

In various times and places many methods have been prescribed for attaining the perception of the psychic centre and ultimately achieving identification with it. Some methods are psychological, some religious, some even mechanical. In reality, everyone has to find the one which suits him best, and if one has an ardent and steadfast aspiration, a persistent and dynamic will, one is sure to meet, in one way or another − outwardly through reading and study, inwardly through concentration, meditation, revelation and experience the help one needs to reach the goal. Only one thing is absolutely indispensable: the will to discover and to realise. This discovery and realisation should be the primary preoccupation of our being, the pearl of great price which we must acquire at any cost. Whatever you do, whatever your occupations and activities, the will to find the truth of your being and to unite with it must be always living and present behind all that you do, all that you feel, all that you think [1].

(What is the difference between mechanical, religious and psychological methods?)

Religious methods are those adopted by the various religions. Not many religions speak of the inner Truth; for them, it is more a matter of coming into contact with their God. Heaven and hell: this is a roundabout way of saying…(words missing in the original transcription)

Psychological methods are those that deal with states of consciousness, that try to realise the inner self by withdrawing from all activity and attempting to create the conscious inner conditions of detachment, self-abstraction, concentration, higher Reality, renunciation of all the outer movements, etc. A psychological method is one which acts on the thoughts, feelings and actions.

Mechanical methods are those which are based on purely mechanical means—one can benefit from them by using them in a certain way. Take breath-control(Pranayama), for example: it acts more or less mechanically, but it is sometimes recommended to add to this a concentration of one’s thought, to repeat a word, as in Vivekananda’s teaching. This works up to a certain point, but then it fades away. These human attempts in various times and places have been more or less successful individually but they have never given a collective result.

The psychological method is far more difficult but far more effective: through your actions, to be in a state of inner will to express nothing in yourself but the Truth of your being, and to make everything dependent on that Truth. Of course, if you do nothing, it is easier, but it is also easier to deceive yourself. When you sit down in isolation, in complete silence and far away from everybody, and examine yourself with more or less indulgent eyes, you may imagine that you are realising something wonderful. But when you are put to the test at every minute of your life, when you have the occasion to become aware of your imperfections, your infirmities, your little movements of bad will a hundred times a day, you soon lose the illusion of being…(words missing in the original transcription…) and so your efforts are more sincere.

That is why, instead of deciding that we would have an Ashram in a solitary forest where everything is very beautiful, very restful, instead of being aloof from the world and attending only to our own little selves, we are trying on the contrary to take up all the activities of life and make them as conscious as we can, and, in our contacts with other people, to become more clearly aware of all the inner movements.

Running away from difficulties is never a way of surmounting or overcoming them. If you flee from the enemy you won’t be able to defeat him and he has every chance of defeating you. That is why we are here in Pondicherry and not on some Himalayan peak. Although I admit that a Himalayan peak would be delightful—but perhaps not so effective [2].

(Providing examples of each type ...)

Mechanical, these are the Asanas, Hatha yoga. It is done with this intention.  Religious, these are for those who believe in a particular religion and pray and perform religious ceremonies. When one believes in a religion – no matter which – one abides by the discipline of the religion and prays and asks, one undergoes the discipline according to the teaching and observing the beliefs of the religion. The psychological method is  Yoga. To seek within oneself through introspection what is permanent, what is constant. That’s all [3].

Agni Yoga. A painting by Nicholas Roerich. Click image for source.


  1. Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 12, p 4.
  2. Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 15, p 324-326.
  3. Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 5, p 392.

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6 thoughts on “Religious, mechanical and psychological methods of self-realization

  1. Pingback: Yoga |

  2. ipi

    Prayer and meditation count for so much in yoga. But the prayer must well up from the heart on a crest of emotion or aspiration, the Japa or meditation come in a live push carrying the joy or the light of the thing in it. If done mechanically and merely as a thing that ought to be done (stern grim duty!), it must tend towards want of interest and dryness and so be ineffective…. You were doing Japa too much as a means for bringing about a result, I meant too much as a device, a process laid down for getting the thing done. That was why I wanted the psychological conditions in you to develop, the psychic, the mental, for when the psychic is forward, there is no lack of life and joy in the prayer, the aspiration, the seeking, no difficulty in having the constant stream of bhakti and when the mind is quiet and inturned and upturned there is no difficulty or want of interest in meditation. Meditation, by the way, is a process leading towards knowledge and through knowledge, it is a thing of the head and not of the heart, so if you want dhyana, you can’t have an aversion to knowledge. Concentration in the heart is not meditation, it is a call on the Divine, on the Beloved. This yoga too is not a yoga of knowledge alone, knowledge is one of its means, but its base being self-offering, surrender, bhakti, it is based in the heart and nothing can be eventually done without this base. There are plenty of people here who do or have done Japa and base themselves on bhakti, very few comparatively who have done the “head” meditation; love and bhakti and works are usually the base; how many can proceed by knowledge? Only the few.

    Sri Aurobindo
    (Letters on Yoga; Part I; PP 533-534)

  3. Sandeep

    Question: Sweet Mother, are religious exercises very important for those who have an ordinary consciousness?

    Mother: Religious exercises? I don’t know! What do you mean by religious exercises?

    Question: … Japa, etc.

    Mother: Oh, those things! If it helps you, it is all right. If it doesn’t help you, it is just… This is one of those altogether relative things. It is altogether relative. Its value lies only in the effect it has on you and the extent to which you believe in it. If it helps you to concentrate, it is good. The ordinary consciousness always does it just through superstition, with the idea that “If I do this, if I go to the temple or church once a week, if I offer prayers, something very fine will happen to me.” This is superstition, spread all over the world, but it has no value at all from the spiritual point of view.

    (Collected Works of the Mother. vol. 6, p 193)

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