Tag Archives: the-life-divine

Reconciling Samkhya, Vedanta and Tantra

In The Life Divine, there is a chapter entitled “Brahman, Ishwara, Purusha – Maya, Prakriti, Shakti“.  According to the editing notes, this chapter was inserted by Sri Aurobindo as part of a revision of The Life Divine completed in 1940 [1].   The purpose of this chapter is to reconcile three different views of the Universe proposed by the philosophies of Samkhya, Vedanta and Tantra.  This intent may not be immediately apparent to those not well-versed in Indian metaphysics, because the word “Samkhya” is explicitly used only twice in this chapter while the terms “Vedanta” and “Tantra” never occur.  This article is a light contextual introduction to this chapter.

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Mental awareness in comatose patients and sleeping newborn infants

Until recently, comatose patients who did not regain awareness in a few weeks would be written off as hopeless, but advances in neuroimaging technologies have revealed that comatose patients continue to display a degree of mental awareness. Scientists have found that disorders of consciousness are not an on-off phenomenon but span a continuum. These results validate remarks made by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother several decades ago. That is the subject of the first section below. The second section discusses the surprising learning abilities exhibited by sleeping newborn babies.

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The genesis of Sri Aurobindo’s superman

“Man is a transitional being” – Sri Aurobindo averred when he envisioned the coming of a new species he called “superman”.  It is generally not necessary to practice Yoga after you attain Self-realization but both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother continued to do so in order to attain the next stage, which they called the “supramental transformation” (hence the epigram “Sri Aurobindo’s yoga begins where other Yogas end”). This aspect of their work is often misunderstood by pedantic scholars who have the irksome tendency of rashly equating superficially similar ideas espoused by various thinkers across the globe.  These scholars tend to claim that Sri Aurobindo’s idea of the superman must have been influenced by Neitzche’s Ubermensch or by Darwin’s theory of evolution.  In this article, I will endeavour to demonstrate the actual origin of the concept of the superman through numerous remarks made by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the subject.  As much as possible, I shall present original quotations in order to avoid adding a layer of (mis)interpretation.

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How can Sri Aurobindo smoke while practising Yoga?

This article is motivated by a recent comment on this blog.  Those who have gained some familiarity with Sri Aurobindo are often baffled by his conduct: How could he smoke or eat meat while practicing Yoga?  Doesn’t it violate the central tenets of Yoga?  If that didn’t hinder his practice, can I emulate him?  The answer is: “No, you shouldn’t emulate him” as we shall see by the end of this article.

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On absent-mindedness, instinctive and willful actions

In our daily life, we perform many actions without complete cognitive control.  You may drive the car while lost deep in thought and later exclaim that you can’t recall the route you traveled.  Or you have the nagging feeling that you have forgotten to lock the door but after checking you discover that you had indeed locked it.  The German mathematician David Hilbert(1862-1943) was so absent-minded that once he went to the bedroom to change clothes for an evening dinner, but instead ended up going directly to sleep.  This article examines the basis of such phenomena from the standpoint of cognitive psychology, neuroscience and integral psychology.

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Pancha-mahabhutas: the five subtle constituents of matter

If everything is consciousness (Brahman), then how does this conscious energy put on the appearance of material solidity.  Why does the table appear solid?  In order to bridge the gulf between consciousness and apparently durable matter, ancient Indian sages postulated (or “divined”) that all physical things are constituted of five subtle elements  called Pancha-Mahabhutas – earth, fire, water, air, ether.  These are not the elements known in the conventional sense (e.g. “water” does not imply the water, and “earth” does not mean soil) but are actually subtle conditions which together create the perception of forms which can be sensed by the human mind.  The actual names of these five elements are Akasha (ether), Vayu(aeriality), Agni(fire), Apas(liquidity) and Prithvi(compaction).  The descriptions of these five constituents are quite similar across Sankhya, Tantra and Buddhist philosophy and even Greek Stoic texts.  Furthermore, as I point out later in this article, what is amusing is that these five elements were codified, probably inadvertently, in the Vishnu iconography seen in Indian temples!

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Four epistemic methods of consciousness

The human consciousness in its attempt to know something divides itself into two parts : the first is the movement of identity whereby one gets to know something by becoming that thing and the second is the movement of differentiation where one stands apart as the subject and analyzes the entity as an object.   Building on this observation, Sri Aurobindo  outlined four epistemic modes of consciousness which differ from each other in the relative intensity of these movements of identity and differentiation .

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