As seen in the previous article on “Yogic Illness”, deliberately pushing oneself into deeper Kundalini-type experiences without a Guru can be perilous to one’s health. An authentic Guru, if you can find one, is not a suave orator or an object of worship but someone who links their consciousness with yours during initiation (Diksha) and gradually elevates you to their level by transforming you from within. Such a Guru can also detect and purge the energy blockages which develop in the subtle body (i.e. aura) during the transformation process. The disciples who came in physical contact with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were fortunate to obtain this intimate guidance. What happens to those who are called to Yoga but remain devoid of a Guru? The Mother once provided a sagacious description of the meandering manner in which the spiritual path unfolds for such seekers.
Yoga without a Guru
Question: Mother, here it is said: “There is first the knowledge of the truths, principles…” First the Shastra (spiritual principles) must be known; but to know the Shastra it is said: “The supreme Shastra of the integral Yoga is the eternal Veda secret in the heart…” So to know the Shastra, first a long process of Yoga is necessary. (Laughter)
(Note: The sentences seen above are from the chapter on the “Four Aids” in Sri Aurobindo’s “Synthesis of Yoga”)
Mother: Yes. According to the usual formula, it is like that. It can’t be learnt overnight, no, nobody believes that, I suppose! Only Sri Aurobindo has made… I don’t know, we haven’t yet read it today… he has made a distinction; he says… no, a little further on he speaks of – we shall see this next time – he speaks of the Guru… no… “the more powerful word of the living Guru”; it comes later.
That is, if it is necessary to prepare oneself by studying books, it is a preparation that takes quite a long time. But if it happens that one can receive a direct teaching, and in all circumstances, then it goes much more quickly. When you have nobody to guide you, and have to find your way by the help of books, when you don’t even have anyone to tell you, “Read that book rather than this one”, when you have to find out everything by yourself, it takes time. Many years.
You see, it makes a difference—people don’t realise it—it makes a considerable difference to be able to ask the question of someone who has realised the thing, that is, one who has had all the experiences and has reached the end and has the knowledge of the thing. You can ask him: “Is this good? Is this useful, is this harmful?” Then in one minute you have the answer: “Yes, no, do this, read that, don’t do that.” And it is so convenient.
But when you are all alone—usually not amidst very favourable surroundings, or in any case where people understand nothing of this, don’t think about it—if they are not hostile—you have to find out everything by yourself; you have nobody to tell you, “Well, read this book, it is better, it is truer than that one.” You have to read a huge number of things, be able to compare them in your own thought, compare the effect they have on you, how far they help you or don’t.
Naturally, people who are predestined are guided by the inner Guide. It happens that they come across the book they should read or meet the person who can give them a useful indication; but this is… After some time they become aware that there was a consciousness there; they did not know very well either where it came from or what it was, or who organized their life, who organised the circumstances of their life—and who helped them at every step to find just the thing which would lead them farther. But it is… it is not very frequent; rather, it is rare. These people are predestined. Otherwise it is difficult; it takes time, much time. And yet it is just the beginning, you see; it is to find the truths on which to base one’s yoga. It is not yoga; it is the general principles on which one is going to construct one’s yoga.
Obviously, those who are particularly interested can find something. It goes without saying that for those who are in India, it is extremely easy, extremely easy; there is a living tradition; whoever wants to do yoga will always find someone to give him information. And even the most ignorant and uneducated have a vague idea of what ought to be done or of what can help them.
But if you are transplanted to the West, well, you will see how difficult it is, with a whole world organised not only “not for”, not only indifferent, but almost totally against, which deliberately refuses to know this Reality, because it is troublesome; so when this happens within you, when the need manifests, you truly don’t know where to turn to find a way out.
Now it is a little better. But fifty years ago it was not too good —fifty, sixty years ago, it was difficult. Now they have made some progress; there is a little more light there, everywhere .
The situation in the West has improved further since the Mother made these comments in 1955. It is this spread of spiritual wisdom from India and Tibet to other parts of the world that has confused some people into proclaiming that the “age of gurus is over” and that the community (sangha) is now the Guru. They fail to understand that the theoretical knowledge gained from fellow seekers is a poor substitute for the healing power that emanates from an authentic Guru. New Gurus will continue to come as more human beings (including you, dear reader) mature spiritually over incarnations. The age of Gurus is certainly not over!
In a subsequent dialogue, the Mother elucidated on the two different ways – one more rapid than the other – in which the written word can guide the spiritual aspirant.
Question: Sweet Mother, here: “In some cases this representative word is only taken as a sort of excuse for the inner power to awaken and manifest” Then in this case is it the individual’s aspiration or the power of the Word?
(Note: the sentence again is from the chapter on the “Four Aids” in Sri Aurobindo’s “Synthesis of Yoga”)
Mother: This depends a great deal on the degree of the sadhak’s (aspirant’s) development, you see. If he is developed and conscious enough to be in direct contact with the spiritual Force which is working behind the words, then the word is only an excuse. But if for him it must pass through his mental understanding in order to have its effect, then the word takes on a much greater importance. It depends on the degree of development.
If one is capable of receiving directly, then one opens a book for instance, finds a sentence and has an illumination; because it was just the word one was waiting for in order to put himself into contact with the Force he needed to take the next step.
Otherwise one must take a book, study it, read it sentence by sentence, word by word, and then reflect and then understand it and then assimilate it and then, later, very slowly, after the assimilation and understanding, it begins to have an effect on the character and one makes some progress.
In one case it is a direct contact, you see, and just one sentence, one word… one reads a word, reads a sentence, and has an illumination. And then one receives all the Force that one needs. The other is the path of the learned man, the scholar, who is an intellectual being and needs to learn, reflect, assimilate, reason about all he has learnt, in order to make progress. It is long, it is laborious .
Two modes of influence
In another discussion, while speaking on Buddhism, the Mother differentiated between the two types of influences originating from the Buddha: his teaching which lives on in the mental plane, and his direct action (through his eternal presence) which is felt by a few people:
Mother: His (the Buddha’s) direct action, apart from his teaching, is limited to a very few people who are very fervent believers and have the power of evocation. Otherwise, the most important part of his action, almost the whole of his action, is associated, united, fused with his teaching. It seems difficult to make a distinction .
We see these two modes in operation in the case of Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and other sages. Although the principal mode of contact is through their written teaching as expounded in various books, there are also people who may receive a fleeting contact with the departed sage during dreams and meditation. Those who were initiated into Yoga by the Mother before her passing in 1973 unequivocally claim that they continue to feel her presence through the warm psychic fire which is still burning in their heart. For them, the Mother is still alive. Similarly, those who were initiated by Anandamayi Ma (1896-1982) also claim that they feel her presence in their hearts, according to Hallstrom who interviewed many of her surviving disciples .
Besides the “direct action” and the written works, the spiritual seeker in need of guidance can turn to the Samadhi(grave), the relics and the room where the sage lived because these places continue to carry the vibrations which the sage manifested during their lifetime. Many continue to feel the presence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother at their Samadhi in Pondicherry. Similarly, there are those who are uplifted while visiting the Samadhi of Anandamayi Ma at Kankhal, the room where Ramana Maharshi sat for most of his life, and other similar places. Not everyone benefits from these visits because most of us live in a thick shell of unconsciousness which is difficult to penetrate, but you never know what can happen in a moment of revelation.
Sometimes, people who are raised in an atheistic environment in the West mistakenly declaim obeisances before the Samadhi and relics as signs of a recessive “religion” rather than progressive “spirituality”. Obviously, the word “religion” connotes different things to different people. In the West, “religion” implies obesiance to an ethical, anthropomorphic, extra-cosmic God while “spirituality” implies finding the spiritual light within. As a result, bowing to any external entity automatically summons subconscious anxieties of “Yoga turning into a religion”. In India, where the sharp cleavage between “religion” and “spirituality” never existed, spiritual seekers have long recognized the potency of vibrations emitted by the Samadhi and the relics of a departed sage. For someone who has not yet attained an inner tranquility, these places of external power are necessary to provide sustenance and affirm one’s resolve during the prolonged and at times depressing spiritual journey.
Integral Yoga without a Guru
In this section, I would like to add a few personal observations with respect to Integral Yoga. The aim of Integral Yoga is to attain the psychic transformation, followed by the spiritual transformation and then (assuming you are not exhausted by then) the supramental transformation. People aspire to the initial psychic transformation by reading the written works and living the teachings. Different written works appeal at different points in one’s spiritual growth: the Letters on Yoga, The Life Divine, the Essays on the Gita, the Synthesis of Yoga, Savitri, Satprem’s Adventures of Consiousnes and other works. There is no fixed trajectory of development. The Mother’s voice, her organ music, and the chanting of Savitri all have been found to have a potent effect on sadhana.
Now I would like to address some of the more convoluted questions which I have seen being asked. These are just my opinions which others may disagree with.
The Supramental Descent and the Yoga of the cells
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother worked on the supramental descent and spoke of the coming of a new species. The Mother worked on the “yoga of the cells” in the final decades of her life, as can be adduced by reading the Mother’s Agenda. People without any original spiritual experience who read the gigantic accomplishments of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother tend to react in two antipodal ways: either they become so exhilarated that they lose their mental balance and talk incessantly about the Gurus’ accomplishments; or they become so cynical that they lose their faith in Sri Aurobindo and slink away to another spiritual teaching. To avoid such outcomes, it is best to ignore these advanced topics in the beginning, otherwise they become a needless distraction from more pressing personal issues related to one’s own spiritual progress. The initial goal of Yoga is to silence the mind for long periods of time rather than understand what precisely Sri Aurobindo and the Mother achieved during their lifetimes (which will be understood in due time as you mature in your own spiritual life).
The Buddha encouraged a similar attitude by leaving certain questions related to metaphysics and cosmology unanswered. His insight is captured in the vignette now known as the “Parable of the arrow” : a story in which a dying man wounded by an arrow refuses medical attention until he is told the name and clan of the person who wounded him, which town he came from, what was his motive, what kind of arrow was used, how the arrow was made, how the bow was made,… you get the point.
Is it enough to read works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother?
They are complete in themselves, but it is still worthwhile to expand one’s knowledge by reading other works on yoga, philosophy, psychology, linguistics and so on. Some people arrive at Integral Yoga after having methodically worked their way through the whole range of teachings of other Gurus and thinkers. This enables them to appreciate the relative strengths of each expositor, and mitigates the kind of fanaticism wherein one views Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in superlative terms and denounces other Gurus as inconsequential. At the same time, one must avoid the other extreme where one dissipates one’s intellectual energy and even the entire life in making detailed diagrams comparing different teachings and theories, otherwise one might end up in the situation the Mother alludes to in this excerpt :
(Concerning a European disciple who praises the merits of a certain pseudo-spiritual book, which Mother calls “spiritual romanticism”:)
It’s very European – they’re like that. They want to compare – they want to compare teachings: you mustn’t get stuck on any one thing; you have to be “broadminded,” eclectic. And so…. That’s what they want, plenty of vital, plenty of imagination, and just enough falsehood to match their own turn of mind! 
Can I practice Hatha Yoga as part of Integral Yoga?
The Mother once explicitly asked a disciple, K.S. Venkatraman, not to practice Hatha Yoga . Although she did not give the reason, I presume it was because the pranic changes induced by Hatha Yoga might interfere with the transformative action that she (as the Guru) applied on the Chakras of the disciples. In the physical absence of the Mother, this prohibition can be discarded. If Hatha Yoga helps in your onward journey, practice it.
Obsession with studying Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
One phenomenon often observed is that after the passing of the Guru, people start to spend inordinate amounts of time in reminiscing who they actually were, how great they were and all the work they did. While some of this study may be legitimate and help us gain insights to apply to our life, it is often a sign of nostalgia. The Guru might have said “live in the present” but people get stuck in the past, recalling adoringly how he said those words and what miracle happened after that.
One should focus one’s energy more on studying oneself (becoming more self-aware) and less on obsessively studying Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
Contact with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
It is crucial to develop some contact with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, who continue to exist behind the veil, because it can provide you with a measure of protection from the kinds of yogic illness seen earlier. It is my belief that unless you are an exceptional soul, it is nearly impossible to attain the Supermind on your own. The spiritual path becomes much easier when you don’t have to use your wits to battle against forces that are beyond your understanding.
O mortal, bear this great world’s law of pain,
In thy hard passage through a suffering world
Lean for thy soul’s support on Heaven’s strength,
Turn towards high Truth, aspire to love and peace.
A little bliss is lent thee from above,
A touch divine upon thy human days.
Make of thy daily way a pilgrimage,
For through small joys and griefs thou mov’st towards God.
Haste not towards Godhead on a dangerous road,
Open not thy doorways to a nameless Power,
Climb not to Godhead by the Titan’s road.
Against the Law he pits his single will,
Across its way he throws his pride of might.
(Savitri, Book VI, Canto II)
- Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 7, pp 340-342
- Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 7, pp 346-347.
- Collected Works of the Mother vol 9, p 195.
- Lisa Hallstrom. Mother of bliss : Ānandamayī Mā (1896-1982), New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Mother’s Agenda, Feb 9, 1962 (online)
- K.S. Venkatraman, My Diary Leaves, 28 Jan 1936.