Limitations of the Mind as an Instrument of Yogic Experience
In this movement, realization adds itself to realization. In other words, the process of this Yoga is progressive. The reason for this progressive movement is that the instrument which is used for this Yoga is primarily connected with the mind. And the nature of the mind has certain inherent difficulties which prevent direct integral realization of the integral Reality, which is the primary objective of this synthetic yoga. Sri Aurobindo points out that when the mental being seeks to know the Divine, it falls short as an instrument to realize the Object of realization in its entire indivisibility and integrality. As he points out:
"When ... the mental being seeks to know the divine, to realize it, to become it, it has first to lift this lid, to put by this veil. But when it succeeds in that difficult endeavour, it sees the divine as something superior to it, distant, high, conceptually, vitally, even physically above it, to which it looks up from its own humble station and to which it has, if at all that be possible, to rise, or if it be not possible, to call that down to itself, to be subject to it and to adore. It sees the divine as a superior plane of being, and then it regards it as a supreme state of existence, a heaven or a Sat or a Nirvana according to the nature of its own conception or realization. Or it sees it as
a supreme Being other than itself or at least other than its own present self, and then it calls it God under one name or another, and views it as personal or impersonal, qualitied or without qualities, silent and indifferent Power or active Lord and Helper, again according to its own conception or realization, its vision or understanding of some side or some aspect of that Being. Or it sees it as a supreme Reality of which its own imperfect being is a reflection or from which it has become detached, and then it calls it Self or Brahman and qualifies it variously, always according to its own conception or realization, - Existence, Non-Existence, Tao, Nihil, Force, Unknowable."51
Sri Aurobindo goes farther and points out that when the Object of realization is seized in awareness by rising above the mental being, we cannot either raise ourselves to it and become it or bring it down to ourselves so that our own experience of our being and world-being can seize the blissful infinity, — the object of realization, — in its totality, integrality and indivisibility. In other words, the instrument of consciousness by which the Object of realization is seized in awareness has to be such an instrument of consciousness as to have the power of seizing comprehensiveness, unity, and indivisible unity. According to Sri Aurobindo, the mind is an instrument of conceptualization capable of making distinctions and discriminations, and its native power acts best when it has to act on divisions and by divisions. There is, however, according to Sri Aurobindo, a power or instrument of knowledge at a higher or highest level, which is supramental that can seize the integral object of realization integrally. It is when the mind rises from one level to higher levels towards the supermind that one realization adds itself to another realization, but the totality of the infinite can be
comprehended in its fullness only if one can rise to the level of the supermind in full state of consciousness and awareness. Sri Aurobindo has, in the course of his yogic research, discovered that there are several gradations of the rising layers of mental consciousness such as those of the Higher Mind, Illumined Mind, Intuitive Mind and Overmind; and Sri Aurobindo points out that even in the overmental plane of consciousness, the unity and integrality of the Object of realization is not effected and that one has to rise still higher to the supramental consciousness.
According to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the exclusive paths of yoga do lead us to the experiences or realizations of the ultimate reality, but each one of them being grasped at the level of the mind, the experience that is obtained reveals only an aspect of the integral Reality. Thus, although the object of knowledge is ultimate, the experience of it is not ultimate, and there are a number of penultimate experiences of reality which give such an overwhelming feeling of ultimateness that the yogic systems which arrive at these penultimate experiences combat with each other and, even in the philosophical field, they become the sources of exclusive and rival schools of exclusive philosophy. Sri Aurobindo, while commenting upon one of these penultimate experiences, namely, the experience of the timeless Eternal, spaceless Infinite, the uttemess of the Absolute,—the experience on which the philosophy of Adwaita Mayavada is based, —states as follows:
"It (that experience) comes upon us with a great force of awakening to reality when the thought is stilled, when the mind withdraws from its constructions, when we pass into a pure selfhood void of all sense of individuality, empty of all
cosmic contents: if the spiritualized mind then looks at individual and cosmos, they may well seem to it to be an illusion, a scheme of' names and figures and movements falsely imposed on the sole reality of the Self-Existent. ...There can be no denial of the overwhelming decisive convincingness, — ekātma-pratyaya-sāram, — with which this realization seizes the consciousness of the spiritual seeker. But still all spiritual experience is experience of the Infinite and it takes a multitude of directions; some of them, — and not this alone, — are so close to the Divine and the Absolute, so penetrated with the reality of Its presence or with the ineffable peace and power of the liberation from all that is less than It, that they carry with them this overwhelming sense of finality complete and decisive. There are a hundred ways of approaching the Supreme Reality and, as is the nature of the way taken, so will be the nature of the ultimate experience by which one passes into That which is ineffable, That of which no report can be given to the mind or expressed by any utterance. All these definitive culminations may be regarded as penultimates of the one Ultimate; they are steps by which the soul crosses the limits of Mind into the Absolute. ... A supreme experience which affirms and includes the truth of all spiritual experience, gives to each its own absolute, integralises all knowledge and experience in a supreme reality, might be the one step farther that is at once a largest illuminating and transforming Truth of all things and a highest infinite Transcendence.52
Sri Aurobindo's First Penultimate Experience
It is significant that an early decisive stage of the yoga of Sri Aurobindo was marked by his attainment of realization that has been claimed to be the culmination of the Jnana yoga
of the Adwaitic Mayavada. Sri Aurobindo had begun his practice of yoga in 1904 but within a short period, he had reached such a high level of concentration that in 1907, when he was guided by a Maharashtrian yogi, Lele, to fling away thoughts before they could enter into his mind, he was able to accomplish the task within three days and to attain the Silence of the Brahman in which the oneness and the soleness of the Brahman's Reality is realized. Sri Aurobindo has provided a vivid description of this realization, and it will be instructive to study this description, which is given below:
"It was my great debt to Lele that he showed me this. "Sit in meditation," he said, "but do not think, look only at your mind; you will see thoughts coming into it; before they can enter throw these away from your mind till your mind is capable of entire silence." I had never heard before of thoughts coming visibly into the mind from outside, but I did not think either of questioning the truth or the possibility, I simply sat down and did it. In a moment my mind became silent as a windless air on a high mountain summit and then I saw one thought and then another coming in a concrete way from outside; I flung them away before they could enter and take hold of the brain and in three days I was free. From that moment, in principle, the mental being in me became a free Intelligence, a universal Mind, not limited to the narrow circle of personal thought as a labourer in a thought factory, but a receiver of knowledge from all the hundred realms of being and free to choose what it willed in this vast sight- empire and thought-empire."53
"Now to reach Nirvana was the first radical result of my own Yoga. It threw me suddenly into a condition above and without thought, unstained by any mental or vital movement;
there was no ego, no real world - only when one looked through the immobile senses, something perceived or bore upon its sheer silence a world of empty forms, materialized shadows without true substance. There was no One or many even, only just absolutely That, featureless, relationless, sheer, indescribable, unthinkable, absolute, yet supremely real and solely real. This was no mental realization nor something glimpsed somewhere above, — no abstraction, — it was positive, the only positive reality, — although not a spatial physical world, pervading, occupying or rather flooding and drowning this semblance of a physical world, leaving no room or space for any reality but itself, allowing nothing else to seem at all actual, positive or substantial."54
But, as Sri Aurobindo points out, further realizations added themselves and each one of them fused itself with that original experience of the Eternal One. At an early stage, the aspect of an illusory world gave place to one in which illusion is only a small surface phenomenon with an immense Divine Reality behind it and a supreme Divine Reality above it and an intense Divine Reality in the heart of everything that had seemed at first only a cinematic shape or shadow.
Sri Aurobindo clarifies that this was no reimprisonment in the senses, no diminution or fall from supreme experience; it came rather as a constant heightening and widening of the Truth; it was the spirit that saw objects, not the senses, and the Peace, Silence, the freedom in Infinity remained always with the world or all worlds only as a continuous incidence in the timeless eternity of the Divine.