A transcribed talk by Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri
We are celebrating, as you know, the birth centenary of Sri Aurobindo who is regarded as the prophet, the 20th Century prophet of the new supramental age.
The subject of my brief discourse this morning is supramental meditation . Supramental meditation may be defined as meditation in its highest phase of full blossoming of the individual self. Sri Aurobindo has discussed in his various writings the synthesis of yoga, the Upanishads, that man can realize God, or the Supreme Being, on different levels of consciousness. When he realizes God on the intellectual level, he perceives God as knowledge, wisdom. When he realizes God on the emotional level, he perceives God as love. When he realizes God on the volitional level, then he perceives God as power in action. When, again, he realizes God on the psychological level, I mean on the total mental level, then he perceives God as the self of his self. So in these different ways we have different avenues of approach to the Divine and may perceive God on different levels of our personality. Sri Aurobindo points out that it is only when we transcend all the different levels of person- ality and succeed in realizing God on the level of thoroughly integrated consciousness, born out of the harmonization of our total being, that we perceive God in his integral fullness. So this is realization of God on the supramental level. And he has discussed various principles of this supramental approach resulting in this total, integral, comprehensive being realization. So I am going to discuss briefly with you the essence and the significance of this supramental God-realization and supramental meditation. You are certainly, I am sure you have heard of different meditation ideas, like for example, there is the ideal of transcendental consciousness which is one goal of meditation which has been emphasized in much of mystical literature. Then there can be devotional love, the goal of meditation as blissful communion with the Divine. Philosophically speaking, broadly there are two ideals. One is the realization of I-Thou relationship between man and God, which is called in yoga literature Savikalpa Samadhi, I-Thou relationship. God is the eternal Thou and man as the individual I. Then there can be realization of being in the form of I-That relationship, which is called Nirvikalpa Samadhi. When the ultimate reality of God is perceived not as Thou but as the underlying unity of both I and Thou, that the ground of the universe which is called Nirvikalpa Samadhi which has been called in Buddhism Nirvishesa Nirvana, the former one is called Savishesha Nirvana. I think an old anecdote would illustrate this point very nicely. I am sure many of you are familiar with this but it is worth repeating because it is a good illustration of the point I am trying to make.
There was a yogi or a saint who was practicing meditation and yoga for a long time in a cave of the Himalayan mountains. After a long period of meditation and yoga practice, he had some wonderful experience. He had enlightenment. He came out of the cave of the mountain and went to the summit and found a very beautiful small temple there. He knocked at the doors of the temple and a voice from within said or inquired, “Who are you?” He said, “I.” The inner voice announced, “The temple is too small for any second person. There is no room for any I.” So he was very much disappointed. Being disappointed, however, he still did not accept it lying down. He again went back into his cave and with renewed determination plunged into a long search for the highest truth. After another long period of meditation and spiritual quest, he had very profound realization. Then he came out, went out to the summit of the mountain and found the same temple standing there in all its glory. He knocked at the doors of the temple again and the same familiar voice inquired, “Who are you?” This time he knew the answer. He said, “Thou.” Then the doors of the temple were flung wide open, the division, distinction between I and Thou was transcended and he entered into the temple and became one with the presiding deity. So this is exemplification of what is called Nirvishesa Nirvana. When the human individual becomes completely one without any trace of distinction whatsoever with the Supreme Being and all distinctions and relations are completely transcended, the identity experience of the one without a second. Corresponding to these two types or levels of God- realization, there are two spiritual ideals throughout the history of religion and mystical search.
Now I would like to point out that as it is a matter of no qualitative distinction just as a distinction of degree, a distinction of emphasis because both of these ideals we will find at present an operative in both eastern culture and western culture, both of these are there. But as a matter of difference of degree and interests we find that it is the I-Thou relationship concept, goal of realization which has been specially emphasized in eastern religious, I mean western religious history. Whereas it is the I-That relationship, the absolutely one Nirvikalpa Samadhi which has been specially emphasized in the history of eastern religious or spiritual or mystical striving. That is why there is this distinction between meditation which is the central, which is very central to the religious consciousness of the east, and prayer in its highest form which is central to the religious consciousness of the west. You see, what is meditation in its essence? See meditation, you look within and then you search for the inmost center of your own being. And then you have the resulting sense of spiritual identity. Oneness with you as an individual and the outward ground of your being which is Brahman, which is the Supreme, and so you say Aham Brahmosmi, “I am one with Brahman, Being, the very foundation and ground of my existence.” So it is expressed in so many different ways. This is the various sense of meditation. This act of affirmation of your spiritual identity and oneness with the inmost center and ground of your existence. Now in the western religious consciousness we find, you see this first one — “I am one,” this is exemplified in that when the saint enters into the temple and becomes one. That is his ultimate goal. Absolute sense of identity, or better still non-duality. Even when we say identity, there is a little difference between the two when we say we are identical. That is why they do not use the expression identity. They say non-duality. There is absolutely no difference between the two. For example, when I say that Richard Nixon is the president of the United States, it is not the fact that president of the United States is one and Richard Nixon is another and they are identical. That’s not it. The truth is that they are one and the same — non-duality. Or when I say City of San Francisco, I do not mean that city is one thing and San Francisco is another thing and the two are identical. I don’t mean that. I mean the city is no different from San Francisco. The reference or denotation of both the words is absolutely the same. That is the meaning of non-duality. In the same way, the essence of you as an individual and the essence of Being is absolutely the same.
You see, you may find it a little difficult to understand, but if an analogy will help you, I can give you a very good analogy which will be an imaginative aid to your understanding. Think of space within this hall — space within this hall. And think of the boundless space outside. Boundless space stretching out to outer space studded with millions of stars in the galaxy. Now, I would like you to think of the relationship between space within here and space outside — vast, boundless space. What do you think is the relation- ship between the two? Would you say that space in this room is one space and outside infinite space is kind of another. In essence, they are the same because both are space. In essence, they are the same. Is that the meaning? No. If you carefully analyze, you will realize that space within this room and space outside are not just identical in essence because they are spaces. They are non-dual. Absolutely no difference at all between the two because of the simple reason that space, infinite space, is indivisible, undivided. Nothing can divide it. That is why if you have a television set here or a radio set here, you see, walls will be no obstruction to summon vibrations coming and being registered in your television or your radio set. Because these walls are artificial creations anyway. They cannot divide space which is essentially indivisible. So if space which is very subtle indeed is undivided indivisible, God who is cosmic consciousness is infinitely more subtle — infinitely subtler than space. And therefore absolutely undivided and indivisible. And in the same way, the consciousness within you, within me, within everybody is not a separate kind of consciousness really separate from that Divine cosmic con- sciousness. Because consciousness is just indivisible. It is only just as the space seems to be divided by the artificial creation of this room but cannot rally cut into it. In the same way, consciousness seems to be divided by the body, material structure, but cannot really touch it, cannot cut into this consciousness. Very profound truth. This is what you eventually realize through meditation. This absolute non-duality between individuals, spirits and the absolute spirit. Anyway, so this is central to meditation.
What is prayer in its highest form? You see, both prayer and meditation ultimately have the same goal — union with the Infinite, with the Divine. But still there is a little difference in approach or in emphasis. Difference in emphasis I say, not difference in essence or quality or goal. Prayer in its highest form says, “Let thy will, not mine, be done.” That is prayer in its highest form. Of course, we begin with imperfect forms of prayer and pray to God for this or that, for prosperity, for problem solution, solutions of the problems of our lives, so on and so forth. But prayer in its highest form is total self-giving to the Infinite and willingness to function in life and society as a passive instrument in the hands of God. So we say, let thy will, when all your personal wishes and desires are brought to a halt, or hushed up into silence. And you make a total offering of your whole being into the hands of the Divine. And you say, let thy will not mine be done. That is prayer in its highest form.
In what respect does it differ from meditation, if at all? As I say, there is no difference in goal but there is a little difference in emphasis. The difference is that here you first of all realize God not as infinite space, kind of vast expanse of consciousness only, but we also realize God as a will. As a will. That is to say, as a focal point of cosmic energy. And then you are willing to act as an instrument of that will. So there is an emphasis. Later we insist upon action, even though it is an I-Thou relationship. But there is an emphasis upon action. Whereas in meditation, there is a greater emphasis upon wisdom. Profound wisdom. In prayer there is an emphasis upon action.
Now, Sri Aurobindo says that throughout the history of mystical religious literature we find that more and more in actual practice this difference began to be accentuated. There are some mystics who are more active. Because of their emphasis on action they could not probably reach the highest wisdom. There were some mystics who had their greater emphasis upon Wisdom , unity, identity consciousness. And because of that emphasis they could not function with their whole soul in the world of action. Now Aurobindo says that the ultimate goal is to breach this gap. To attain in our search for truth and self-perfection perfect identity of wisdom and love and action. Jnan and Bhakti and Karma. You see, this is the ideal which emphasizes in the Vedas or the Gita very beautifully and very elaborately which is a profound, the most profound truth of our spiritual life. You see, this unity of total unity of wisdom and love and action.
Now, the problem arises and the question arises in our mind: is that really possible? Is it possible for man to completely unify these three spiritual values? You know, in the saints and lives of Ramakrishna and Vivekenanda we see how the problem, we see this problem very beautifully articulated, presented — in all its problematic character.
I shall tell an anecdote from there. Vivekananda was a brilliant spiritual speaker. And Ramakrishna could see that he is the reincarnation of a spirit or a soul which is very advanced indeed. So one day Ramakrishna called Vivekananda and asked him, “What is the secret desire of your heart? What would you like to be or what do you want most of all?” Vivekananda said, “Well, it goes without saying that I should like to attain Nirvikalpa Samadhi.” Absolute union with the Supreme Being, which is the traditional Indian spiritual ideal. Nirvikalpa Samadhi or Nirvishesa Nirvana which is the highest in Buddhism. Just as I mentioned in that anecdote, entering into the temple and becoming one with the presiding deity of the temple. That is what he wanted. Ramakrishna said, “No.” You know, he scolded and he said, reminded him of the ideal that Buddha followed. Buddha took the vow of Bodhisattva and returned for the good of humanity and for the salvation of the entire living creation. So he reminded him of this Bodhisattva ideal. He said, “No, you have come to this world not just to attain for yourself individually the highest spiritual ideal. You have a job to do in this world in the service of humanity.” And then to his other disciples he said that you know, in order to, I shall see to it that even though his spirit was very advanced, I shall see to it that he fulfills his nature to action in this world. And then he said that I shall give just a little veil of ignorance on his eye so that he can go to action. But you know, as soon as he attains full realization and the veil of ignorance will be completely lifted from his nature, then he will no longer need to live in this body and will become one with the Supreme Body.
Very interesting. I want you to ponder the significance of this. Why did he say that? Why did he say that in order to carry on action in this world there has to be a little veil of ignorance — Maya, as it is said? And after, you see, after he attains complete realization, the veil is lifted, then he will leave the world, which Vivekananda did. So that is a very fundamental, crucial spiritual problem here. The problem is this. When the veil of ignor- ance or Maya is completely lifted and we have that perfect sense of oneness with the Supreme, that sense of perfection I say, immediately you notice the discrepancy or dichotomy between your perfect self and your imperfect body/ mind. That is why throughout the ages mystics and the sages and the philosophers felt that dualism. You see, Plate, for example, looked upon the body as a prison house for the immortal soul. So eastern mystics have experienced it. Going through much agony of the soul, the duality. You see, body/mind — the imperfect and the spirit, indwelling spirit or soul which is the spark of the Divine is perfect. So there is this discrepancy. And that is why Vivekananda when he did his job as assigned to him by Ramakrishna then one day he entered his room, he gave some instructions to his co-workers and brothers in faith, and then he went deep into meditation and voluntarily by yogic process left his body. So here is a big problem. As soon as you have complete wisdom, then you feel your body is like a prison house, our body does not belong really to, it is not itself part of God, your soul is a part of God but not your body and mind, which is the flesh. So in the whole of Christian literature, you come to the statement like perpetual struggle between the flesh and the soul, flesh and the spirit, which every great mystic feels.
So, what happens then to the ideal of complete unity and integration of perfect wisdom and love and action of the body and mind in this world which is a sphere of relativity? What happens to that ideal? How can we accomplish that? This was the starting point of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophical search and spiritual quest. Search for complete integration of personality. Completely unifying, harmonizing the indwelling spirit which is indeed an imperishable spark of the Divine and the body/mind structure which belongs to nature different from this space in a sense. When Sri Aurobindo reports of his spiritual search eventually he makes a supreme discovery. That is the discovery of the Supermind which is the ultimate, unifying, harmonizing principle of the universe, of all existence, the Supermind. It is not only a unifying principle, it is a sovereign transforming power of the Supreme. It is amazing power of transformation. So, says Aurobindo, that if we succeed in the course of our yoga, meditation, spiritual search, in discovering the Supermind, rising up to the supramental level and then coming down again into physical consciousness with the light and power and love and the transforming magic of the Supermind, then it will become possible to transform our material body also. Our body, our life, our mind also into a perfect image of the Divine. Into a perfect channel of expression of the Divine. This possibility of perfect transformation of our total being is the highest potential of man, the highest spiritual potential of man, according to Sri Aurobindo. And then he goes into a very elaborate philosophical discussion why it is possible, because he says that Supermind, first of all, is a dynamic potential of the cosmic evolu- tionary process. If we do not succeed with our own efforts, evolutionary process is there which is going to do it. And then again, he points out that not only it is there in the structure of the universe as a potential of evolution, it is also within each one of us as our own basic most profound potential, the Supermind. Just as in the course of evolution the human mind one day evolved out of the matrix of animal consciousness, just as in the course of civilization our consciousness is evolving from the ethical level to the religious level to the spiritual level, so on and so forth, he says that the final moment, as he calls it the hour of God, as it is approaching there will be the emergence of this higher level and higher power of consciousness which is the Supermind. And that Supermind as it will be brought forth into manifestation and overt operation in the collective consciousness of humanity will lay the foundation for the transformation, not only of individual human beings, but the transformation of the entire human race and society leading to the establishment of mankind’s age-long dream of the kingdom of heaven on this planet.
So that is the great message of Aurobindo and, of course, there is still much to know about it. You know, this is a vast subject. Sri Aurobindo, in his different books of yoga, has tried to discuss the different techniques and principles of the supramental meditation. I have tried from, especially from the standpoint of the west, western culture and civilization and on a compara- tive basis, the basic principles of supramental meditation in my book, Integral Yoga. I, myself, have the strong conviction that it is the supramental technique or approach in meditation which is of paramount value and importance for modern man because, as I have been emphasizing throughout these past few days, that we stand today on the threshold of a new age, which is the supra- mental age. And the new age is going to be ushered forth into existence through the manifestation and overt operation of this higher power of consciousness, the Supermind in our life.
Talk given at San Francisco Ashram (1972)
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