One-pointed to the immaculate Delight,
Questing for God as for a splendid prey,
He mounted burning like a cone of fire.
To a few is given that godlike rare release.
(Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book I, Canto V)
The ascent experience is where the mental or vital sheaths of the being rise above the head – towards the Sahasrara Chakra – and become purified by contact with the Superconscient. The culmination of this experience is the ability to rise above the physical body and unite with the Infinite in Cosmic Consciousness. Note that the most material part of the consciousness always remains associated with the physical body.
The ascent process occurs due to the Udana Prana:
Finally, the Yogin acquires at a certain stage of development the power of abandoning his body definitively without the ordinary phenomena of death, by an act of will, or by a process of withdrawing the pranic life-force through the gate of the upward life-current (udana), opening for it a way through the mystic brahmarandhra in the head.
(Sri Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, CWSA vol. 23-24, p 521)
See Vital Sheath for more.
Sri Aurobindo describes this experience in various letters to disciples
- That [rising above the head] is very good. Such risings help to break down the lid between the higher and lower planes in the consciousness and prepare the wideness.
- Chest and head rising higher are sensations of the subtle body – it means that the mind and heart consciousness (thinking mental and emotional) are rising to meet the spiritual consciousness plane above the head.
- It is the subtle parts of the physical that go up. The external consciousness can also go up, but then there is a complete trance. There is not much utility for the complete trance in this sadhana.
- If all went up, there would be no existence in the body. There is always some consciousness and therefore some self supporting the body.
- No, the body itself cannot go up – how could it? The body is meant for keeping the consciousness linked to the physical world.
What you felt was not imagination at all, but the usual experience one has when the consciousness is lifted out of the body and takes its stand above the head. One is no longer bound then by the physical consciousness or the sense of the body – the body becomes only an instrument, a small part of the consciousness which has to be perfected. One enters into a larger free spiritual consciousness in place of the present bound and limited physical consciousness. If this lifting up above the body can be repeated always until it can be maintained, it will be a great landmark in your progress. It is the confinement in the physical consciousness that makes you (and everybody) narrow and selfish and miserable. Hitherto the higher consciousness with its peace etc. has been descending into you with great difficulty and fighting out the vital and physical resistance. If this release upward into the higher consciousness can be maintained, then there will be no longer the same difficulty. Much will still remain to be done, but the foundation will have been made.
It is the aim of the sadhana that the consciousness should rise out of the body and take its station above, – spreading in the wideness everywhere, not limited to the body. Thus liberated one opens to all that is above this station, above the ordinary mind, receives there all that descends from the heights, observes from there all that is below. Thus it is possible to witness in all freedom and to control all that is below and to be a recipient or a channel for all that comes down and presses into the body, which it will prepare to be an instrument of a higher manifestation, remoulded into a higher consciousness and nature.
[Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Triple transformation]
From the Synthesis of Yoga
…The conscious centre of our being, our thought, our will and action, even the original force of our sensations and emotions rise out of the body and mind and take a free station above them. No longer have we the sensation of living in the body, but are above it as its lord, possessor or Ishwara and at the same time encompass it with a wider consciousness than that of the imprisoned physical sense. Now we come to realise with a very living force of reality, normal and continuous, what the sages meant when they spoke of the soul carrying the body or when they said that the soul is not in the body, but the body in the soul. It is from above the body and not from the brain that we shall ideate and will; the brain-action will become only a response and movement of the physical machinery to the shock of the thought-force and will-force from above. All will be originated from above; from above, all that corresponds in gnosis to our present mental activity takes place.
[Sri Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, The Conditions of Attainment to the Gnosis]
Excerpt from the Evening Talks
NIRODBARAN: What is the significance of the experience in which the being is uplifted from the crust of the physical?
SRI AUROBINDO: It is the liberation of consciousness by its rising upwards, free from the physical crust. Ordinarily it is this physical crust that prevents the consciousness from going within or upwards. What makes you ask?
NIRODBARAN: Sahana had the experience, and she wants to know the significance. Just before Darshan she felt as if her whole being were uplifted from the physical crust which appeared like a hollow case. The experience lasted one or two days.
SRI AUROBINDO: When any descent takes place, this crust prevents one from feeling it, but when the crust is removed the ascent can take place more easily and the higher force can also be brought down. It is the physical crust that gives the most opposition. There is, of course, the vital opposition too but the physical is stronger. Did Sahana have no such experience before?
[Nirodbaran. Evening Talks, 29 NOVEMBER 1939]
Another excerpt from the Evening Talks
SRI AUROBINDO: In the usual experience, it is one’s habitual consciousness that rises: it may be any part of the being, the mental, vital or physical, that goes up to the higher planes above the mind and stays there for a time; some organisation takes place and then the consciousness comes down with some result. In the ascent and descent about which I have written in The Life Divine, the whole being—you may call it the Self—goes up, say, to the Overmind, settles there and meets the Divine and then the descent of the Divine takes place. Obviously this is more difficult.
SATYENDRA: Is descent easier than ascent?
SRI AUROBINDO: Yes.
NIRODBARAN: I thought it was through the head alone that both happen.
SRI AUROBINDO: It is usually through the mind, when the mental consciousness goes up, but it can happen otherwise also, the vital or physical consciousness directly going up without passing through the mental.
NIRODBARAN: Sahana’s experience of ascent and her feeling of nothingness and then her return with the sense of a flame in the heart —is it an experience of an ascent through the heart?
SRI AUROBINDO: I don’t remember well. In her case it wouldn’t be through the mind. But all the same it is a major ascent into the spiritual consciousness.
SATYENDRA: I had also the experience of ascent through the Muladhara Chakra before doing any Yoga.
SRI AUROBINDO: That is the physical consciousness ascending.
NIRODBARAN: It would be nice to have this experience of ascent and descent.
[Nirodbaran. Talks with Sri Aurobindo, 9 March, 1940]
- Explaining the Ascent-Descent in Integral Yoga
- Kundalini in ancient Greek and other non-Indian cultures
- Various ways in which the Kundalini rises
- Why does Yoga give you a “high”?
- The subtle sounds which indicate progress in Yoga
- The Triple Cord which has to be sundered
- The Golden Lid or Hiranmaya Patra which has to be ruptured
- Explaining out-of-body and near-death experiences