The sudden inflow of energy, the rapture and the sense of release that one feels after a favourable period of meditation is not easy to sustain. The mind mostly misinterprets the experience, the heart seizes and appropriates it, while the physical body feels relieved and exhausted that it has ended. We tend to yawn and eat junk food after a period of meditation because the physical body is tamasic(dull) by nature and not accustomed to the newly attained tranquility. Instead of yawning and dissipating the energy gained during the meditation, the body needs to be molded to become more supple and receptive; the cells of the body have to be made more and more conscious through regular exercise and refined eating habits so that it can sustain longer and greater spiritual experiences. Sri Aurobindo denoted this power of the body as Dharana Shakti or Dharana Samarthya (retention capacity; Samarthya or Shakti = capacity, Dharana = retention).
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother would decline to accept as disciples those who had a weak body because Integral Yoga made demands on the physical being. Those who wanted peace and serenity in the heart were dispatched to Ramana Maharshi’s Ashram. Exceptions were made in case of highly developed souls such as Kanailal Ganguly who, during his first meeting with Sri Aurobindo, frankly admitted that his “nervous being [was] very weak”. Sri Aurobindo reassured him, “That doesn’t matter. My nervous being also was weak, and Mira’s nervous being too was weak; but we have become strong now. I think after sometime you too will be all right.” .
During the yogic transformation, disciples would inevitably discover the limitations of their physical body, as this exchange shows:
Nagin Doshi: The physical consciousness is too weak to hold the experience even for a short time. It gets fired. The mechanical mind takes advantage of this and rushes in. How to prevent such obstacles? It is really a pity that in spite of having the higher experiences before me I cant respond to them. What is the remedy?
Sri Aurobindo: No remedy except the possession of the physical by the higher consciousness and a consequent throwing outside of these things.
Sri Aurobindo himself had difficulties in building up the capacity to retain spiritual experiences, as the following entries from his diary, The Record of Yoga, indicate. (English equivalents for Sanskrit terms are enclosed in parentheses).
27 Nov 1912: The brain works at anything enjoined on it, but there is a disinclination in the karmadeha (physical) previous to the work or for a particular work. The fumes of tamas (dullness) are strong in the brain, but do not prevent the luminosity working, although it is like the sun on a clouded day .
21 Jan 1913: The physical siddhi is obstinately disputed, especially health; even the kamananda (physical bliss) is forcibly interrupted. Nevertheless this great change has been established in the sanskaras(habits) of the body that, while formerly it felt release from the continued ananda(bliss) as a relief and as its normal condition of purity & freedom, now it feels continuity of it to be its normal condition and absence of it to be not purity but want, not freedom but a bondage .
This is a very significant observation that has been made above. Sri Aurobindo indicates that the habits of his body are changing; those who have engaged in physical culture will concur that there comes a moment when the exercises that previously seemed to exhaust the body suddenly become effortless.
Sept 29-30, 1914: Continuous intensity of the kamananda (physical bliss) is now restored the question is of the degree of dharanasamarthya (retention capacity) in the body. It is the battle that has now to be fought out, for there is no other real obstacle to the permanent & not recurrent continuity of the Kamananda .
24 July 1915: Intensity of premananda fails now only because of the inability of the prana(life energy) to hold it. The prana is accustomed only to calmness or to an equable ananda .
The remark above indicates that in later stages of Yoga, it is not enough for the body to be able to just remain calm in repose; it must also be able to bear the intensity of the greater power and bliss that flows into the body.
10 May 1918: The strong intense sahaituka still leaves a doubt whether the body is capable of bearing and therefore holding its indefinite prolongation and increase. This dharana-samarthya (retention capacity) also must be determined in order to ensure permanence. When it is fixed, Ananda will help to enforce perfect arogya (health) on the body .
May 13, 1918: Kamananda is [increasing] rapidly in sasmarana continuity, but it still tends sometimes and the Ananda tends always to diminution of intensity by vismriti. The opposite tendency of increase by continuity is not yet strong enough to get permanently the upper hand. There is also the habit of discontinuity which though no longer proper to the physical body is imposed on it by the mind of the Akasha (plane) of the surrounding [physicality] and accepted through force of past habit. The old sanskara (habit) of the body that the Ananda must be discontinued to give it relief, exists also in that mind and has its effect in bringing about discontinuity. The latter can be more easily eliminated than the general habit of discontinuance, which cannot be finally expelled except by the growth of the nihsmarana action .
Explaining all the passages seen above would be an unnecessary detour here. The key point is that the body has to be made more supple and luminous in order to sustain spiritual experiences. As the Mother put it succinctly, “One should find relaxation in force and light, not in darkness and weakness”.
Sri Aurobindo wrote at length on the retention capacity (Dharana Shakti) that needs to be developed in The Synthesis of Yoga. Here is an excerpt from the chapter called “The Power of the Instruments“:
The body is not only the necessary outer instrument of the physical part of action, but for the purposes of this life a base or pedestal also for all inner action. All working of mind or spirit has its vibration in the physical consciousness, records itself there in a kind of subordinate corporeal notation and communicates itself to the material world partly at least through the physical machine. But the body of man has natural limitations in this capacity which it imposes on the play of the higher parts of his being. And, secondly, it has a subconscient consciousness of its own in which it keeps with an obstinate fidelity the past habits and past nature of the mental and vital being and which automatically opposes and obstructs any very great upward change or at least prevents it from becoming a radical transformation of the whole nature. It is evident that if we are to have a free divine or spiritual and supramental action conducted by the force and fulfilling the character of a diviner energy, some fairly complete transformation must be effected in this outward character of the bodily nature. The physical being of man has always been felt by the seekers of perfection to be a great impediment and it has been the habit to turn from it with contempt, denial or aversion and a desire to suppress altogether or as far as may be the body and the physical life. But this cannot be the right method for the integral Yoga. The body is given us as one instrument necessary to the totality of our works and it is to be used, not neglected, hurt, suppressed or abolished. If it is imperfect, recalcitrant, obstinate, so are also the other members, the vital being, heart and mind and reason. It has like them to be changed and perfected and to undergo a transformation. As we must get ourselves a new life, new heart, new mind, so we have in a certain sense to build for ourselves a new body.
The first thing the will has to do with the body is to impose on it progressively a new habit of all its being, consciousness, force and outward and inward action. It must be taught an entire passivity in the hands first of the higher instruments, but eventually in the hands of the spirit and its controlling and informing Shakti. It must be accustomed not to impose its own limits on the nobler members, but to shape its action and its response to their demands, to develop, one might say, a higher notation, a higher scale of responses. At present the notation of the body and the physical consciousness has a very large determining power on the music made by this human harp of God; the notes we get from the spirit, from the psychic soul, from the greater life behind our physical life cannot come in freely, cannot develop their high, powerful and proper strain. This condition must be reversed; the body and the physical consciousness must develop the habit of admitting and shaping themselves to these higher strains and not they, but the nobler parts of the nature must determine the music of our life and being.
The control of the body and life by the mind and its thought and will is the first step towards this change. All Yoga implies the carrying of that control to a very high pitch. But afterwards the mind must itself give place to the spirit, to the spiritual force, the supermind and the supramental force. And finally the body must develop a perfect power to hold whatever force is brought into it by the spirit and to contain its action without spilling and wasting it or itself getting cracked. It must be capable of being filled and powerfully used by whatever intensity of spiritual or higher mind or life force without any part of the mechanical instrument being agitated, upset, broken or damaged by the inrush or pressure, – as the brain, vital health or moral nature are often injured in those who unwisely attempt Yogic practice without preparation or by undue means or rashly invite a power they are intellectually, vitally, morally unfit to bear, – and, thus filled, it must have the capacity to work normally, automatically, rightly according to the will of that spiritual or other now unusual agent without distorting, diminishing or mistranslating its intention and stress. This faculty of holding, dharana shakti, in the physical consciousness, energy and machinery is the most important siddhi or perfection of the body.
The result of these changes will be to make the body a perfect instrument of the spirit. The spiritual force will be able to do what it wills and as it wills in and through the body. It will be able to conduct an unlimited action of the mind or at a higher stage of the supermind without the body betraying the action by fatigue, incapacity, inaptitude or falsification. It will be able too to pour a full tide of the life-force into the body and conduct a large action and joy of the perfected vital being without that quarrel and disparity which is the relation of the normal life-instincts and life-impulses to the insufficient physical instrument they are obliged to use. And it will also be able to conduct a full action of the spiritualised psychic being not falsified, degraded or in any way marred by the lower instincts of the body and to use physical action and expression as a free notation of the higher psychical life. And in the body itself there will be a presence of a greatness of sustaining force, an abounding strength, energy and puissance of outgoing and managing force, a lightness, swiftness and adaptability of the nervous and physical being, a holding and responsive power in the whole physical machine and its driving springs [mahattva, bala, laghuta, dharana-samarthya] of which it is now even at its strongest and best incapable .
- Bulletin of the SAICE, Feb. 1960, pp 80-81. (Mother: “So in other days I used to send them to Ramana Maharshi, saying, ‘Go there, you will get into meditation and you will find rest’.”); Nirodbaran. Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol. 2, p 542, 10 Mar 1940. (Sri Aurobindo: “For peace he can go to Ramana Maharshi. When people come here for peace I always ask them to go to him.”)
- Kanailal Ganguly. As I remember.
- Nagin Doshi, Guidance from Sri Aurobindo, (Pondicherry: SABDA, 1987), vol. 2.
- Sri Aurobindo. The Record of Yoga, p 119.
- ibid., p 213.
- ibid., p 636.
- ibid., p 878.
- ibid., p 1055.
- ibid., p 1065.
- The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother. vol. 12, p 54.
- Sri Aurobindo. The Synthesis of Yoga, CWSA vol. 23-24, pp 730-732.
- Physical Culture
- Four Austerities and Four Liberations
- Equanimity as the foundation of Integral Yoga
- Sharing spiritual experiences with others
- Why spiritual experiences do not repeat?
- Stabilizing the body before meditation
- Transcending the work-leisure cycle
- Ill-effects of television on Yoga
- Food : How to eat like a Yogi
- Food : The rationale behind vegetarianism
- Conversation : Self-control over speech
- Vital immobility
- Disrupting the routines of life
- The ability to withstand hardships in the spiritual path