Alan Kazlev is something of a polymath. Author, scholar, and creator of Kheper.net, he is always busy with some new and intriguing project. If you haven’t stumbled across it already, Kheper (as a verb, “to create”), is the wikipedia for all things esoteric. In this interview he discusses Sri Aurobondo’s ideas on human evolution, consciousness and finding one’s spiritual path.
1) In a few words, can you explain the heart of Aurobindo’s philosophy? What was at the core of his teachings?
The Realisation of the Supermind; the establishment of the Divine (Supramental) Life on Earth
2) Aurobindo considered himself a counterpart to The Mother. Could you explain the nature of their relationship? For example, did one balance the other?
Yes, certainly. I tend to think a lot of the relationship was based on Sri Aurobindo’s adoption of Tantric ideas such as Shiva (passive) and Shakti (active, creative), as well as Bengali spirituality (e.g. Ramakrishna worshipped the Divine Mother). So Sri Aurobindo chose to remain behind the scenes, and appointed Mirra as the Mother of the ashram, organising things and seeing to the disciples spiritual needs.
Also, the two had a very different, but complementary, style of teaching. Sri Aurobindo took a very intellectual approach with his sophisticated metaphysics, whereas Mirra / The Mother adopted a more heart centered approach, presenting profound teachings very simply and accessibly (a lot of her most important talks were delivered to children in the Playground section of the Ashram). I don’t have the quote reference, but Sri Aurobindo supposedly taught through the spiritual mind, drawing down the transcendent Divine from above, and the Mother the psychic being, the immanent divine principle within.
3) One of the most interesting concepts Aurobindo speaks about is the evolution of the human being. It helps remind us not to become attached to form, because what we are is transient. He describes the emerging human to be a “Gnostic” being. What would such a person be like, and in your opinion, how do you think the Gnostic human will emerge in the modern world.
Yes, he famously said “man is a transitional being” (not sure if in those particular words, but that’s the gist of much of his teaching).
The Gnostic being is an individual who has full supramental gnosis, and so has realised the Supramental state of existence not only individually but collectively as well. The Gnostic being doesn’t exist as an isolated ego or individual (although he/she still has full individuality) but as part of an – to use a transpersonal and Wilberian term – intersubjective totality.
For us who still at the human level, it impossible to describe what such an individual would be like, or how they would interact with or participate with untransformed human society, or their role in the transmutation of the Earth as a whole, although these influences would surely be profound. Perhaps, by analogy with modern spiritual teachers, on a subtle level of transforming others, rather than some sort of dramatic sci-fi miracles. But who knows, maybe it might be miraculous. In this context I like to use the transhumanist concept of Singularity. That is, a point at which historical, technological, mathematical, etc. prediction or analysis breaks down, so that it becomes impossible for beings “this side” of the Singularity to understand what life is like on the “other side.” By analogy I guess you could say, from the perspective of the abiotic Earth it was impossible to understand how a world full of living and sentient beings would be like. All that we know is that there would be so many new factors, possibilities, etc, and things we cannot conceive of (along the lines of Rumsfeld’s famous quip about known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns; this topic involves a great number of unknown unknowns – things we don’t even know we don’t know).
Various statements are found scattered through the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother about what a Supramental existence might be like, from which some insights can be gleaned: the Gnostic being exists in a state of nonduality which nevertheless does not negate duality and multiplicity, and of total Truth consciousness (any falsehood is impossible) which embraces the integral totality of existence and of the Supreme.
Also, the Gnostic being is not the end of evolution, but itself still a transitional stage on the road to full supramentalisation (so it is hard to say which attributes appear at the Gnostic being stage and which only appear later with the mature Supramental being), and even complete supramentalisation will be surpassed in supramental realisation of ananda, or of satchitananda
4) Beyond the normal, rational and thinking mind is the “supramental.” What does this mean?
It is a state of holistic, all-embracing, Truth Consciousness. According to Sri Aurobindo, Supermind is the link between the totally monistic transcendent worlds of Sachchidananda, and the dualistic manifest world of Matter, Life, and Mind. It is the creative aspect of the Supreme, it is Sachchidananda in manifestation.
5) Aurobindo’s Yoga is uniquely different than other Yogas. Could you describe it in a little more detail?
Basically, other yogas strive for a transcendent Liberation, or at best to be a Liberated being in this world (such as a bodhisattva), but leaves the world of samsara itself unchanged. Integral Yoga seeks to transform the world, to actually divinise matter itself. In a such a transformed world, there would no longer be falseness, evil, and injustice, or dichotomy of life and death, truth and illusion. Rather, evolution will progress “from light to greater light.”
Sri Aurobindo apparently said (maybe this is apocryphal) “our yoga starts where the others end.” In other words, Liberation, Enlightenment, rather being the end point and goal of spiritual evolution, is only the beginning.
6) Is Aurobindo’s “Gnostic Being,” at all similar to Teilhard’s Omega Point?
Only in that each represent a sort of spiritual-divine singularity as regards cosmic evolution. Apart from that, and not denying the obvious parallels between the Aurobindonian and Teilhardian respective cosmologies (such as the progressive evolution of Spirit through the stages of matter, life, and mind to the ultimate God-omega state), the two are quite different. Teilhard still envisaged matter and the Earth being transcended, left behind like a husk, whereas for Sri Aurobindo matter and physical existence would itself be the foundation of the new Divine life. Teilhard saw much more of a convergence in a single God-state, Sri Aurobindo emphasised individuality much more, and it is precisely this individuality that contributes to the richness of the Gnostic community.
7) For everyday people reading this blog who are interested in study and practice, how might Integral Yoga apply? Or would you recommend forging alternative paths?
Well, my recommendation is always and only just this: go with what is most meaningful to you. That may be Integral Yoga, or it may be something totally different. It’s not that one is “better,” it is that everyone has a spiritual approach that is most right for them.
Unlike most spiritual teachers, Sri Aurobindo did not give out any techniques. Basically he would advise a student or disciple or devotee to just do whatever felt most appropriate. In this way, the transformation worked spontaneously.
My suggestion for anyone interested in Integral Yoga would be to read teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and see if they resonate in some way. If you have an “aha, of course!” reaction, a sense that they are saying exactly what you have always felt and known to be true, only, if anything, putting it more clearly than you have, and if, even more so, you feel elevated, uplifted, get a feeling of peace or of power, well, this is quite likely the path for you. If you don’t feel that sort of recognition, even if it is intellectually interesting, stimulating, fascinating, but it does not impact beyond the mental-theoretical level, well, that means this isn’t the way for you. Of course you can still incorporate such insights, and get useful inspiration.
Finally, there is no reason to assume that the Supramental Transformation is only working through Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s revelation or teachings, and that you have to focus on them and no-one else. To me, that is just another form of religious fundamentalism. You may follow a totally different spiritual teaching, but still be completely and integrally contributing to the Supramentalisation of the Earth. That’s why I say, go with those things that are totally meaningful and feel totally right to you.