Sravana Manana and Nidhidhyasana

Those who practice the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have developed the habit of reading their books either alone or during study circles.  They claim that this activity is a meditation in itself which naturally awakens the wisdom needed to respond to the multifarious challenges of life.  The Mother herself recommended that disciples read Sri Aurobindo’s books with a blank mind without discussing or explaining the writings to each other.  Does this work?

Yes, it does.  In fact, there is a classical analogue to this method called Sravana, Manana, Nidhidhyasana which is followed by the Vedantins and is mentioned in the Brihadaraynaka Upanishad (2.4.5).  In this verse, Yajnavalkya tells Maitreyi: “The Self should be seen, heard, reflected on and contemplated upon.  By seeing, listening, reflecting, and contemplating, all is known”.

ātmā vā are dṛṣtavyaḥ śrotravyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyo maitreyi
ātmano vā are darśanena śravaṇena matyā vijñānenedaṃ sarvaṃ viditam

Sravana means listening to the Upanishads, Manana is reflection on the content, and Nidhidhyasana refers to the contemplative state which is induced by the verse. The Adi Shankaracharya (8th century C.E.) was an enthusiastic proponent of this method.  He believed that the true Self which is clouded by inchoate karmic formations (vrittis) can be revealed just by listening to the revelations (Sruti) given by the ancient sages.

Verses from the Upanishads

Verses from the Upanishads. Click image for source

In a “spiritual market” saturated with schools offering to teach Pranayama, Hatha yoga, Chakra healing, Reiki and all sorts of assorted techniques, there is at least one school today which still teaches this ancient textual method of Sravana Manana, Nidhidhyasana.  This school is the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam founded by Swami Dayananda Saraswati (not to be confused with Dayananda Saraswati of the Arya Samaj).  They have two gurukulams (centers for study) in India in Rishikesh and Coimbatore and one in the USA in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.

Neil Dalal (currently Asst. Prof. at Univ. of Alberta) visited the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam and published a research paper on their practice “Contemplative Practice and Textual Agency in Advaita Vedānta” recently in the journal Method and Theory in the Study of Religion [1].  This article draws on his academic research to describe in layman terms the method of Sravana, Manana and Nidhidhyasana as practiced in the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam.

Classes at the Gurukulam are free and taught in English by the resident monks.  The classes revolve around the Upanishads and the commentaries that Shankara wrote on these texts.  It is believed that that these passages contain “the hidden knowledge of non-duality as well as specific verbal teaching methods that have the capacity to reveal the existence of Brahman”.

The primary teaching method is a form of indirect implication (jahadajahallakṣana or bhagatyagalaksạṇa).  Upanishadic verses such as “tat tvam asi” (you are that, Chandogya Upanishad 7.8.7), “aham brahmasmi” (I am Brahman, Brihadaranyaka 1.4.10) are taken up for study by the teacher.  According to classical Advaita, words have literal denotative meanings (mukhyartha or vacyartha) as well as implied connotative meanings (lakṣyartha).  The teacher dilates on the verse to draw attention to the secondary implied meaning, using grammatical oppositions which puzzle the student’s mind, thereby stimulating them to negate their individuality and awaken themselves to the actual nature of the pervasive non-dual reality.

In contrast with other contemporary yoga schools where contemplation is emphasized and textual study is seen as secondary, in Arsha Vidya, textual study and contemplation go together. According to Swami Dayanananda, the reading of the sacred texts during the lectures automatically induces Nidhidhyasana.  The words act as a mirror to discern one’s true self because the process dissolves subject-object dualities leading to a non-dual awareness.   The Swami states:

It is my responsibility to make Vedanta work as a pramaṇa (source of knowledge) to wield it and handle it as a pramaṇa. You see the words do the magic. This doesn’t require your will or effort. The nose will pick up smell whether you want it to or not. You have no responsibility. You need to let go and suspend your will. Your will should not interfere. The teacher has the responsibility, but letting go on the part of the student seems to be much more difficult.

In his paper, Dalal also reports on the experiences of some who underwent this training:

…a couple of sannyasins (renunciates) reported their own struggle to adopt an orientation of surrendering to the texts in their contemplation. They recognized that their minds created resistance, a screen of their own ideas and concepts that acted as a filter and obstructed Advaita teachings. When they were young students, they required considerable effort in contemplation to extract the meaning from the sentences. The words did not penetrate deeply and doubts or confusion would pop up. Yet, as they continued to study and gained clarity, their experience of contemplation changed significantly. Their minds became increasingly passive, and they recognized that in reality the words were doing all the work. This transition from mental effort to relaxing and allowing the words to become active was a major turning point in their contemplative practice. They reported that the great difficulty in allowing the words to become effective was having the courage to let go of their obstacles and resistance to the words.

Some sannyāsins reported that repeating the sentence meaning is only the starting point. As their contemplation gains maturity, the words act like a mirror to see one’s self.  They let go of any attempt to objectify self-knowledge or to use will power and effort, and recognize that there is no separation between self, brahman, and the meaning of the mahāvākya [1]

This description above mirrors the process experienced by those who read the books of Sri Aurobindo.  Initially, one feels some friction while reading but once the mind falls in harmony with Sri Aurobindo’s consciousness, the reading becomes fluid and the words themselves are found to induce a state of deep contemplation.

Why is it that the works of sages embody such a Mantric quality that induces contemplation?  The reason, according to Abhinavagupta(an Indian sage and polymath from 10th century C.E), lies in the nature of the Guru’s concentrated thought.  This passage is a translation from his work entitled Tantraloka (16, 250 f.):

“When articulated thought becomes identified with concentrated speech (samjalpa, the expressive power of the mantra uttered on the occasion), it obtains the character of reflection (vimarsa, the characteristic function of the cosmic Sakti), and this reflection has Mantra as its self, pure and characterized by freedom from the defiled status; eternal and built up in identity with the eternally liberal Siva; by its connection with this [reflection] even the teacher’s articulated thought obtains the Siva-nature” [2].

It is this singular union of illumined thought and expression that produces the works of revelation that live on for centuries, and enable us to practice methods such as Sravana, Manana and Nidhidhyasana.


Here is a response by the Mother on the topic of explaining Sri Aurobindo’s writings:

11 November 1947

Disciple: Yesterday, You said that in our Synthesis of Yoga class it is useless and even stupid to comment on Sri Aurobindo’s writings. Sweet Mother, I have been committing this stupidity in my classes for years. May I beg you to allow me to stop giving them?

Mother: Many lazy-minded people are very happy to be given explanations about Sri Aurobindo’s books, because they have the feeling that they understand better. That is why I have not interfered. Indeed, it is better for people to hear readings and take interest in them than to have no contact at all with Sri Aurobindo’s writings.

So you should continue with the class; but in making comments, you must understand that they cannot avoid being inadequate, and that the original text far surpasses anything you can say about it.

            With my blessings.

(Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 17, p 344)

For more on this aspect, see the remarks collected under Why read Sri Aurobindo’s books?


  1. Neil Dalal. Contemplative Practice and Textual Agency in Advaita Vedānta.  Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, vol. 21 issue 1 March 1, 2009. pp. 15-27 (online)
  2. Teun Goudriaan and Sanjukta Gupta. Hindu tantric and Sakta literature. Wiesbaden [Germany] : O. Harrassowitz, 1981, p 164 (amazon)

Related Posts

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  2. The Milinda-Panha
  3. Why read Sri Aurobindo’s books?
  4. Sri Aurobindo’s prose style – by Goutam Ghosal
  5. How to read holy books?
  6. Hermeneutics: how to read holy scriptures
  7. Guidance by random book opening
  8. Gorakhnath’s enumeration of contemplation methods
  9. Allusions in Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri
  10. Difference between religion and spirituality
  11. Developing one’s own spiritual atmosphere (Gita 3:17)
  12. Why do we feel afraid and how to overcome it
  13. Why the future is veiled from us
  14. Signs of spiritual aptitude
  15. Signs of readiness for the spiritual path
  16. How an Egyptian discovered Sri Aurobindo
  17. Gita Chapter 18, Verse 60-61: The illusion of free-will
  18. Differentiating between need and desire
  19. Ethical, logical and aesthetic mind
  20. On being truthful in speech

31 thoughts on “Sravana Manana and Nidhidhyasana

  1. donsalmon

    Excellent post, Sandeep. I think there is a variety of ways to approach this. In the Christian tradition of “Lectio Divina”, there is a period of prayerful, contemplative reading, in which one simply lets the words “soak in”, surrendering, not making any attempt (actually, actively refraining) to “analyze” or understand.” But there are also periods of active reflection.

    Similarly, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of analytic meditation, one begins reflection on a topic (like “the preciousness of human life” and the extraordinary opportunity we have as embodied beings to awaken to the true nature of things) with active thinking. This is an integrated, embodied thinking, open to the full range of feeling, imagination and intuition, quite radically different from the kind of thinking most of us learn in school. it is focused and mindful, always with the aspiration to be open to the deeper, non-verbal intuitive meaning of the theme.

    At any point, a deeper intuition might arise. At that point, one stops all reflecting, and concentrates one-pointedly on the intuition, penetrating deeper (or allowing it to penetrate one, if you like). One performs this “stabilizing” meditation as long as possible, until the mind starts wandering, then goes back to active reflection.

    When successful, this alternation of reflection and stable intuitive focus becomes integrated. Then one learns simply to “gaze” at whatever Idea one seeks to understand and becomes able to go deeper and deeper without the need for that initial process of reflection.

    In “The Yoga of Knowledge” in “The Synthesis of Yoga”, Sri Aurobindo describes a process remarkably similar to both of these, but particularly the Tibetan analytic meditation. One very much begins with active reflection (in fact, the Mother in several passages recommends this kind of reflection too – even on SrI Aurobindo’s texts) but with the aspiration to go deeper and deeper, beyond reflection.

    I think this is all so foreign to modern culture, we don’t realize how much we do this in many different ways. I know as a musician that any good composer (that was my training, but it’s true for improvisers also) goes through this back and forth between actively analyzing the music to intuitively penetrating into the depths. Similarly, in scientific research, dozens of great scientists have described an initial active search to understand a particular hypothesis followed by an intuitive opening which was due to intense, wordless examination.

    Sri Aurobindo, in “The Mind of Light”, describes how this process even occurs in sports. one practices, pays attention to the movements of the body, and gradually, the body intuition takes over and one no longer has to practice in the same precise way.

    I suspect that if we looked carefully, we’d find this interplay of intellect and intuition occurs throughout our daily lives. Sri Aurobindo gives hints in his commentary on the Kena Upanishad that it is the supramental consciousness working through the different parts of the being that appears as intuition. In fact, it is the supramental that appears as “laws of nature” in matter, as instinct in animals and intuition in humans. And he gives clues throughout his writings that at least one of the ways to cooperate in the process of transformation is to consciously cultivate this opening to intuition.

    Much food for thinking (and for not thinking too!)

    1. Sandeep Post author

      I think we have to differentiate between intuition sparked by reflection and text-induced intuition. The former also occurs but the latter is the subject of this article.

      The Mother said (or rather M.P.Pandit paraphrased):

      Each book, especially a book of revelation, of spiritual Wisdom or Teaching, says the Mother, is a concentration of forces, something like a battery. It is not mere words. Behind the words, there pulsates the power of the Knowledge that is clothed in the words and this power is full of the Consciousness that has manifested the Knowledge.

      From (Guidance by Random book opening)

      1. donsalmon

        That’s very interesting Sandeep. Can you say more about the difference? Is the intuition different? Or is it just the process that’s different?

        I know when reading Savitri, a very strong inner voice always guides me away from virtually any kind of reflection. The Shakti of the words is so awesome and so obvious, that the pulsating “power of the Knowledge that is clothed in the words” simply streams forth.

        That makes perfect sense to me. In fact, I find a similar experience with reading The Life Divine.

        However, I find when I do the kind of slow, meditative reflection on The Life Divine, it may appear initially to lessen the impact or the full power of the Shakti, but the longer term result is that there is a greater integration in my day to day life. I notice that a sense of guidance is more present, and there is a “thinning” of the materiality or substantiality of (apparent) material objects (I’m aware of the caution against speaking of “experiences” but I’m just intending to give some hint of the experiential difference between simply opening to the Shakti in a spiritual text and actively reflecting then allowing intuitions to emerge).

        Does this make any sense? I could probably say all this a lot more simply if I took a bit more time:>))

      2. Sandeep Post author

        Don: Can you say more about the difference? Is the intuition different? Or is it just the process that’s different?

        One of the aspects I forgot to emphasize in the main article is the fact that the ancients used to transmit knowledge orally rather than via writing. Texts were read aloud rather than silently as we do now. And the medium of transmission was through poetic verses rather than prose.

        That allowed the ancients to absorb and remember the melody of a composition which might have helped to stimulate the power of “intuition”. OTOH, we are drowned very much in an intellectual and visual era.

        Although it is known that the Vedas were transmitted orally, historical documentation is scarce in India. In Greece and Rome, however, we find records that indicate that reading was usually done aloud.

        See a few anecdotes from Plutarch, St Augustine and St. Benedict here :

        Also see online Chapter 2 of Alberto Manguel’s “A History of Reading”

        There are plenty of other books on the subject. For example, Rosalind Thomas on page 13 of her Literacy and Orality in Ancient Greece

  2. donsalmon

    one more thought – I’ve been reflecting a lot in the past year on how to challenge the materialistic bias in science. one of the most interesting areas to do this is in the process of perception. At the moment, most honest neuroscientists will admit we at present have no clue how the material process of the brain picking up vibrations and transducing them into electro-chemical impulses in the auditory, occipital or other nerves becomes the subjective percept. Sri Aurobindo, in the Life Divine, notes this and adds that it is only because of a fundamental (not his word) intuition that subject and object are linked up. So in every moment – when you’re looking at the computer screen, feeling the keys under your fingers, listening to sounds in your environment, etc – it is the underlying intuition – our inherent “knowledge by identity” – that makes possible any experience at all.

    One more side note – it’s been a frustratingly long time since I’ve been surprised by a new idea in the mystery of perception. I just came across this yesterday and thought it was brilliant.

    Say you’re looking at a white teacup. The scientists (the materialists, that is) tell us that whatever is stimulating our senses bears no resemblance to that sense image. So there is some “X” that simulates the senses and our brain then “constructs” the appearance of the white teacup.

    But what is the problem with this? The explanation includes the idea that the “vibrations” of light are “reflected” off the cup and are then picked up by our eyes.

    But the “teacup” which reflects the light is itself an appearance constructed by our brain. So we now have a new mystery – what is that X which is reflecting the “light vibrations” (itself a purely abstract concept which tells us little or nothing about what is really “there”) back to our eyes (and keep in mind, that the image of “eyes” and “brain” that we have in our mind when we think about this process is also a mere “construction” of our “brain”.

    The more you investigate virtually any purely materialistic explanation of anything, the more it falls totally apart.

    By the way, if you try to investigate this by actively thinking about it, you’ll find your mind becoming twisted into knots. This is definitely one area where active thinking just gets you in more trouble. Just look at the tea cup – what do you see, and how do you see it? Who is seeing it? What does “it” refer to? How could we possibly see or experience anything if the materialistic explanation is right? Don’t think about it, just look, do you see anything?

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Don: At the moment, most honest neuroscientists will admit we at present have no clue how the material process of the brain picking up vibrations and transducing them into electro-chemical impulses in the auditory, occipital or other nerves becomes the subjective percept.

      Are you referring to what they call the Hard problem of consciousness ?

      Don: Say you’re looking at a white teacup. The scientists (the materialists, that is) tell us that whatever is stimulating our senses bears no resemblance to that sense image. So there is some “X” that simulates the senses and our brain then “constructs” the appearance of the white teacup…The more you investigate virtually any purely materialistic explanation of anything, the more it falls totally apart.

      In the book “Consciousness, Indian Psychology and Yoga”, there is a chapter where Matthijs Cornelissen says the hard problem arises because Western philosophy is inverted in its thinking. It sees this world as real and consequently has to figure out why the brain works; whereas Indian philosophy which sees this world as a projection can explain better why the brain creates images.

      I will post an excerpt later.

      Don: Sri Aurobindo, in the Life Divine, notes this and adds that it is only because of a fundamental (not his word) intuition that subject and object are linked up

      I believe you are referring to Prajnana, the apprehending consciousness, about which he wrote :

      “That apprehending consciousness, the Prajnana, places, as we have seen, the working of the indivisible All, active and formative, as a process and object of creative knowledge before the consciousness of the same All, originative and cognisant as the possessor and witness of its own working,—somewhat as a poet views the creations of his own consciousness placed before him in it as if they were things other than the creator and his creative force, yet all the time they are really no more than the play of self-formation of his own being in itself and are indivisible there from their creator. Thus Prajnana makes the fundamental division which leads to all the rest, the division of the Purusha, the conscious soul who knows and sees and by his vision creates and ordains, and the Prakriti, the Force-Soul or Nature-Soul which is his knowledge and his vision, his creation and his all-ordaining power.”
      (Life Divine, CWSA vol. 21-22, p 175)

      Another passage where he mentions the origin of the subject-object division:

      But what then is the origin of mentality and the organisation of this lower consciousness in the triple terms of Mind, Life and Matter which is our view of the universe? For since all things that exist must proceed from the action of the allefficient Supermind, from its operation in the three original terms of Existence, Conscious-Force and Bliss, there must be some faculty of the creative Truth-Consciousness which so operates as to cast them into these new terms, into this inferior trio of mentality, vitality and physical substance. This faculty we find in a secondary power of the creative knowledge, its power of a projecting, confronting and apprehending consciousness in which knowledge centralises itself and stands back from its works to observe them. And when we speak of centralisation, we mean, as distinguished from the equable concentration of consciousness of which we have hitherto spoken, an unequal concentration in which there is the beginning of self-division— or of its phenomenal appearance.

      (Life Divine, CWSA vol. 21-22, p 149)

      1. donsalmon


        yes, yes and yes!!! yes, the hard problem. And yes about Matthijs’ chapter (I have a chapter in that book which you might enjoy, which deals with the hard problem from a different perspective). Matthijs has a wonderful way of turning the hard problem around. For the objectivist Westerner, the problem is, starting with finite matter, how do you get consciousness? For the more subjective (actually, the more integrative subject-object oriented Eastern mentality) Consciousness is the most obvious fact. The question then is how do you get from the Infinite Consciousness to this “world” of apparent separation?

        And yes about those marvelous passages from Sri Aurobindo’s Ken Upanishad commentary. We used that commentary as the basis of our book on yoga psychology; in fact, his comments on samjnana, prajnana, vijnana and ajnana are really the basis of the book, and will be a big part of the basis of our website critiquing materialism (though they’ll be hidden, implicit rather than explicit).

    2. Sandeep Post author

      In the book “Consciousness, Indian Psychology and Yoga”, there is a chapter where Matthijs Cornelissen says the hard problem arises because Western philosophy is inverted in its thinking.

      Here is the excerpt from the article by Matthijs:

      (David) Chalmers‘ formulation of the hard problem-and of the correlation between the brain and consciousness are typical examples of our unwarranted, and often unconscious collective tendency to think that even if consciousness is irreducible, it is somehow still “less fundamental” than matter. The recent philosophical debate on the nature of consciousness is to a considerable degree dominated by such materialist presuppositions….


      This unquestioned assumption of the reality of the physical world is rather remarkable in that it is not as self-evident as contemporary Western philosophers may like to believe..For almost every statement that arises out of an exclusively materialist world-view, in the Indian philosophical tradition one can find a similar but opposite statement claiming the exclusive existence of consciousness. Two examples will illustrate how closely the two exclusive world-views mirror each other.

      The Denial of Reality to the Other Side of the Coin: Scientific materialism regards spirit and consciousness as insubstantial chimera, or at best as epiphenomena of material processes.ln a perfect mirror image bf this denial of spirit and consciousness by the materialists, the influential mayavadin schools of Indian philosophy regard matter and sense-impressions as illusions imposed on the absolute silence of the spirit.

      The Persistence of “Hard Problems”: A central focus in current philosophical.debates is the dilemma of how first-person awareness could arise out of the multitude of objective, material the brain. In India, there have been centuries of debate on the equally tough question of how the seeming multiplicity of material appearances could arise out of the silent immobility of pure Consciousness.

      There is thus a remarkable symmetry in these two extreme positions and their one-track simplicity gives them a certain strength, which dualistic philosophies cannot easily achieve.

      (Kireet Joshi, Matthijs Cornelissen (ed). Consciousness, Indian Psychology and Yoga , New Delhi, Motilal Banarsidas, 2004. pp 16-17)

      1. donsalmon

        thanks for that excerpt. I was mistaken in my last post – my essay is in a previous book of essays edited by Matthijs, “Consciousness and Its Transformation” which is published by the SA Ashram. But again, Matthijs has a very nice approach to this question. I think that materialism as a basis for science will soon (10-20 years) come to an end. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

      2. Sandeep Post author

        Don: I think that materialism as a basis for science will soon (10-20 years) come to an end

        I doubt it, especially in the absence of repetitive and objective proofs of the existence of subtler world. I am more inclined to believe that the scientists will just conjure up more refined materialistic theories to explain away the anomalies and discoveries that crop up with new instruments and experiments. Antonio Damasio did just that; he constructed a new three-layered model of the Self to explain all his clinical results on mind-body connection in a series of books from Descartes Error to Self Comes to Mind

        It will need some radical Divine Miracle of some kind to get these scientists to abandon these reductionist theories and embrace consciousness as the substratum of life.

      3. nizken

        There is some work especially in the neuroscience, parapsychology and consciousness studies fields which seems to not reductionistic…people like Rupert Sheldrake at the PEAR Project (among others at Princeton Univ. like Noosphere Project.) I will try to gather all the links, projects, TED Talks etc and post them in this blog soon but there seems to be a few researchers who are actively talking about this within mainstream materialistic science as well.
        Pim van Lommel a Dutch cardiologist has even published papers related to near-death experiences (NDE’s) in the British journal The Lancet. I will try to organize all these disparate research areas and post them in a better manner soon.

      4. donsalmon

        Well, would you care to wager (maybe not a Romney level “$10,000” wager, but something else? Andrew Newberg, a prominent neurotheology researcher, recently casually mentioned he accepts Dean Radin’s research. Even more surprising, long time (over 4 decade) arch skeptic psychologist Ray Hyman recently (2011) admitted that there are irrefutable results in psi research and the only reason he can’t accept them is because of prejudiced beliefs he acquired in his childhood. Arch skeptic psychologist Richard Wiseman made the same admission in 2009, though he recanted in 2010. Pim Von Lommel, a cardiologist, has written a book on near death experiences with a consciousness-based understanding of the brain, and prominent neurosurgeon Eben Alexander recently did the same thing in regard to his own NDEs. Chris Carter has written an excellent trilogy with irrefutable evidence for psychic phenomena, near death experiences with no materialistic explanation, and rebirth research that is, if not irrefutable, as solid as most research in mainstream science.

        The philosophic argument couldn’t be simpler. Cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman has made it quite clear – there is not a single fact in all of science that can be used to prove or refute any metaphysical position – the nature of relative knowledge that science investigates precludes any ontological knowledge – which cannot be gotten by ordinary reason but only by direct intuitive knowledge, which is outside the province of science.

        So there’s simply two steps:

        1. Make clear that there is not one single fact in all branches of science that requires a materialistic explanation.
        2. Having reached a point of neutrality with respect to the question of what the foundation of science is, try out contrasting views:

        2a. Take any fact, like a particular correlation of brain activity and subjective experience, and ask, which is the better explanation, the materialistic one or the consciousness explanation?

        This would take several years to work out in detail, and I plan to do this beginning in 2014 (I hope by then, at least!). But I am willing to wager than in virtually every single case (whether explaning the so called “big bang”, the emergence of laws of nature, the emergence of life and consciousenss, the ever increasing complexity of both form and consciousness in evolution, the relationship between mind and brain, the explanation for qualia, for psi phenomena, for near death experience, for emotions, for genius, for creativity, etc) the consciousness explanation is infinitely simpler, more complete and more comprehensive.

        Willing to bet??!?

      5. donsalmon

        Ah, Nizken – thanks (and thanks for getting the spelling of Lommel’s name right; I can never remember it). I think Sheldrake is in England, and I forget the name of the folks at PEAR, which has unfortunately closed, But IONS (institute for noetic sciences, where Radin works) is doing great work in psi research. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to seeing those links. Maybe some kind of radical Divine Miracle may be on its way sooner than we think!

      6. Sandeep Post author

        Interesting article on placebo. I was just reading Adi Shankaracharya’s commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and in one place he gives an analogy of a placebo to illustrate how the idea of ignorance causes pain.

        In the section related to Sutra 2.23, Shankara wrote:

        “Ignorance (avidya) is the cause of joining the Seer to the Seen. As it is Ignorance that causes the pain-giving conjunction, it is like a false suggestion (mithya-jnana) of having been in contact with something harmful, which actually causes illness. The connection of Seer and Seen is preceded by illusory knowledge (mithya-jnana), and as causing pain, it resembles that (false idea) of having been in contact (with something harmful such as poison) in the case of a sick man. Inasmuch as the opposite of seeing the true nature of what is causing pain to the sufferer is failure-to-see, which sees it wrongly, failure-to-see is said to be the cause of the conjunction, meaning that its cause is Ignorance, and from the fact that the conjunction is pain-giving.”

        (Trevor Leggett, The complete commentary by Śaṅkara on the Yoga Sūtras, Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1990, p 246)

      7. Sandeep Post author

        Don: Well, would you care to wager (maybe not a Romney level “$10,000″ wager, but something else?

        Well, I can always chicken out of this betting game by claiming that the Mother would not have approved of gambling 🙂

        But for the purpose of argument, lets first clarify what exactly you expect to happen in ten years:
        1) A coterie of scientists and philosophers might accept a more occult explanation
        2) All scientists and philosophers would drop their objections and climb on the bandwagon. If that happens, a natural corollary would be that the whole world would accept the existence of God and there would be no atheists!

        The first is already happening and there is no need to wager on it; the second I don’t believe will ever occur.

        Whatever theory that is superimposed on phenomenal data is just a collective belief upheld by the personalities of the participating scientists. Some day, these scientists will die and be replaced by a new set of scientists who might question and overturn the “consciousness-based models” and return to the more close-fitting materialistic theories. Given alternate explanations, science works fine with “inference to best explanation” or parsimonious theories. Nothing in the phenomenal world requires a supernatural explanation. The world works fine as it is.

    1. nizken

      I do my best not to flood Sandeep’s blog with my useless posts, and perhaps this topic here is not even under the right section! There are many branches of scientific analysis which are not at all based upon the materialist viewpoint. Biology is the oldest which is not at all materialist, so are most sciences such as social sciences, economics, medicine, psychology and so on. Para-psychology has been a well-established field within scientific investigation and there are lots of genuine observations in there.
      Also, I myself being a hardcore materialist I don’t see the problem with materialism being inadequate or somehow “wrong.” It is just the basis upon which science sprouted from in the 18th century and this endeavor is still ongoing to study the natural phenomenal universe. I will post all those links and projects/research papers etc., under the right section and place for interested readers soon.

      1. nizken

        btw, I’ve only posted above to prove that mainstream science is not anti-consciousness or anti-Vedanta; and that there has been no such biased position within the scientific community for over a 140 years. British scientists were investigating many spiritual claims and hypnotic states etc. under the rubric of “spiritualism” (or para-psychology as this field is called nowadays!) Although modern scientific investigation’s got it’s humble start in studying matter and light/heat; this does not mean science has always been materialist, reductionist or limited to certain avenues only. John Horgan from Scientific American who wrote “The End of Science” may be a good read to understand all these things. However I agree these views tended to be on the fringes of mainstream science and were not very popular in society, but they have existed all through the last 300 years or more.
        Such discussions may not be appropriate to this blog so maybe we should email each other for further discussion. My email is

        (Sandeep: Your comment got held up because it contained a URL!)

      2. Ian James

        The Mother could tie-off this misplaced thread…

        [M]an has never thought anything that wasn’t the distortion of a truth.
        That’s not the difficulty, it’s that for religious people there are certain things they have a DUTY to believe, and to allow the mind to discuss them is a “sin” – so naturally they close themselves and will never be able to make any progress. Whereas the materialists, on the other hand, are on the contrary supposed to know and explain everything – they explain everything rationally. So (Mother laughs), precisely because they explain everything, you can lead them where you want to.’
        ~ The Mother’s Agenda, 7 September 1963.

  3. kehnebuske

    I have practiced reading in that open way for many years, most powerfully Savitri, but also the Synthesis of Yoga, the Spandakarika and Vijnana Bharava Tantra and earlier the work of Krishnamurti. The daily immersion in a consciousness higher than mine seems to support a gradual transformation that is very thorough, affects every aspect of my life and shifts the filters through which I see everything. Gradually, the text “opens” and I begin to consciously understand more and more of what is being said and the translation into the nuances of life becomes simpler and simpler. All of life does become the yoga. The practice is easeful and motivated by the joy found in doing it. The gradual opening of my own consciousness feels much more like receiving a loving gift than making an effort.

  4. donsalmon

    I guess one of my thoughts about this topic is that – I’ll speak for myself here – I find it’s important to be mindful that I’m not skipping over a step in my aspiration to go “beyond” ordinary thinking. Here’s a passage from Synthesis of Yoga where Sri Aurobindo describes what sounds to me almost the same process as the Tibetan analytic meditation. One starts with ordinary reasoning (or to put it more simply, one starts where one is) and from there, the mind is transformed until intuitive knowing replaces reflection altogether.

    I wonder if part of the confusion is that we’re talking here mainly about reading “spiritual” books. Since SrI Aurobindo and the Mother teach an “integral” yoga – the processes they’re describing are relevant not only to reading their writings, but to every moment of our lives. And unless we’re very VERY far ahead on the path, I’m willing to wager that everyone reading this still uses ordinary thinking for at least 1 minute out each day. So for that one minute, this passage may still be relevant:

    “We have seen that intellectual thought is in itself inadequate and is not the highest thinking; the highest is that which comes through the intuitive mind and from the supramental faculty. So long as we are dominated by the in- tellectual habit and by the lower workings, the intuitive mind can only send its messages to us subconsciously and subject to a distortion more or less entire before it reaches the conscious mind; or if it works consciously, then only with an inadequate rarity and a great imperfection in its functioning. In order to strengthen the higher knowledge-faculty in us we have to effect the same separation between the intuitive and intellectual ele- ments of our thought as we have already effected between the understanding and the sense-mind; and this is no easy task, for not only do our intuitions come to us incrusted in the intellectual action, but there are a great number of mental workings which masquerade and ape the appearances of the higher faculty. The remedy is to train first the intellect to recognise the true intuition, to distinguish it from the false and then to accustom it, when it arrives at an intellectual perception or conclusion, to attach no final value to it, but rather look upward, refer all to the divine principle and wait in as complete a silence as it can command for the light from above. In this way it is possible to transmute a great part of our intellectual thinking into the luminous truth- conscious vision, — the ideal would be a complete transition, — or at least to increase greatly the frequency, purity and conscious force of the ideal knowledge working behind the intellect. The latter must learn to be subject and passive to the ideal faculty.” (Synthesis of Yoga, p. 301-302)

  5. mike

    “Well, I can always chicken out of this betting game by claiming that the Mother would not have approved of gambling”

    I’t probably goes without saying, but since all life is Yoga, has Mother or SA actually said they disapprove of gambling. l know most ppl ruin their lives through it, but is it possible for someone to use gambling as a ‘way of works’ in Yoga – to win back money from the wrong forces, so to speak. ls it allowed in that sense – just curious. l realise this can be an enormous trap for ppl to fall into – believing the Divine will win money through gambling, but is there any way gambling can become a postive action for the Divine?? An immense amount of money goes into the wrong hands through this vice from what l’ve seen.

  6. mike

    l found something to answer my question. lt seems KD Sethna had a fondness for gambling until Mother explaned the occult secret behind it:

    “My fondness for gambling at cards persisted longer. Udar and the Gaebelés proved very good company for this indulgence. From my college days I had the gambling instinct. I put the gains of many a scholarship at stake. The instinct found play in that most glorious, though also pretty ruinous, game of chance: horse-racing.

    She explained to me the occult wire-pulling of forces behind all games of chance. Subtle entities make sport of human beings when the latter think they are being clever at these entertainments. The tactics of these entities is to give us some striking luck and elate us as well as create a false sense of our capacities. They lead us to risk more and more money and then, when we are most confident and hopeful, bring us down with a crash. The more acutely miserable we become, the more they jump in joy.

    I dropped my brag, poker and pontoon when the Mother opened my eyes.

    Apropos of playing cards, the Mother recounted to me an occasion when she had gambled. I shall tell the story later when I touch on Paul Richard’s role in the Mother’s life; for, her gambling experiment took place in connection with him.

  7. mike

    Here’s the rest of the story:

    “The gambling story has for its scene the boat on which the Mother was coming to India from France. She told it to me with the introductory words: “I have gambled only once.” Richard played cards with his friends hour after hour and kept losing money all the time. His friends turned to the Mother, laughing: “Madame, why don’t you take his chair and bring him some luck? The Mother answered: “I warn you that if I play I will take away all your money.” They guffawed. The Mother took the seat — and she did take away all their money! It was by the exercise of an occult power. She explained to me: “I could see all their cards as if they had been transparent.” So, knowing their hands she played hers. It was a good lesson to them. They had to beg her to stop playing.”

  8. Pingback: The Grace is at work everywhere | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

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