The following article is based on a presentation made during the
Second International Conference on Integral Psychology,
held at Pondicherry (India), 4-7 January 2001.
The text has been published in:
Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001) Consciousness and Its Transformation. Pondicherry: SAICE.
The 24 papers collected in this book were all presented during the Second International Conference on Integral Psychology, which was held in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry in January 2001. The aim of this conference was to encourage research on consciousness in the light of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, and to lay bridges between their work and psychology as an academic science.
The interest in consciousness within science has gone over the years through many ups and downs. The subject was virtually taboo right from 1920 till the late seventies. But since then the situation has gradually changed, and the last couple of years have seen a tremendous increase in the number of books and articles published on consciousness, not only in the popular press, but also by reputed academic publishers and peer-reviewed journals. This renewed interest in consciousness seems to have arisen mainly from the confluence of recent developments in neurophysiology, artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology. Neurophysiology is getting closer and closer to finding the exact neurological correlates in the brain of the mental processes that take place in the mind. Recent developments in Artificial Intelligence show that many mental processes that till recently were considered the prerogative of the conscious human mind, can now be imitated by computers that operate without any apparent consciousness. At the same time psychological research has shown that even in us, human beings, almost all cognitive processes can take place without any direct involvement of our conscious awareness. So the question arises what our consciousness actually is, what purpose it serves biologically and how it interacts with, depends on, or gives rise to the material process in the brain. Many answers to these questions have been suggested, but none of them is considered completely satisfactory and it is becoming increasingly accepted that satisfactory answers may never be obtained from within the purely physicalist framework that has dominated the field so far.
There has been an impressive quantity of excellent, sophisticated research on the physical correlates of consciousness, but virtually no research worth the name on the nature and development of consciousness itself. It has been suggested by several authors that useful approaches to consciousness research might be found in the Indian spiritual traditions. Though some interesting work has been done in this direction, especially on the basis of Buddhist thought, creating a true integration of traditional Eastern spirituality and modern, largely Western, science has not been found simple. While the two approaches have some common elements, like their respect for experience and experiment, their basic philosophies and objectives are too far apart.
Sri Aurobindo's work in this area could make a major, perhaps a decisive contribution. Sri Aurobindo's philosophy is able to serve as a comprehensive alternative to the fundamental ontological and epistemological premises on which science at present is basing itself.
Sri Aurobindo has not only provided a well-worked out ontology and epistemology, but he has also given detailed descriptions of yogic processes and techniques that can be translated into the core elements of a new methodology appropriate for the rigorous and systematic study of the subjective aspects of consciousness. These two elements could form the foundation for a whole new approach to science in general, but they are specifically relevant for psychology, which they can transform into a truly Integral Psychology that is capable of looking after both the objective and the subjective aspects of our existence. Sri Aurobindo has also produced, together with the Mother, a real treasure of psychological insights that are not only relevant for those who do yoga, but for anybody interested, personally or professionally, in the working of the human psyche. This work may prove to be especially valuable for the development of new forms of applied psychology, like integral psychotherapy, integral education, human resource development, and personal growth. It is these applications of integral psychology that will make a true integration of spirituality and modern life pragmatically feasible.
One could summarise Sri Aurobindo's contributions to the field of consciousness studies in five closely related points. First of all there is the unequalled height and profundity of his own realisation and the work he and the Mother have done to make the supramental consciousness operational within the earth atmosphere. Second there is the vastness and perfection that we find in his synthesis of the different systems of yoga. Leaving aside everything that is narrow, external, or limited, he took of each system the psychological essence and uplifted it by aiming not only at liberation, but at a complete, supramental transformation of the human being. Third, he created a wonderful, comprehensive philosophy in which all the different schools of Indian thought fit beautifully, not diminished, but enriched and fulfilled by the wider framework in which they find themselves. Fourth, he developed a psychological system that is in the best sense of the word integral. It not only encompasses all aspects and levels of human nature, but it looks at them from the perspective of an ongoing individual and cosmic evolution of consciousness, so that each little element or movement is linked back to its divine origin and points forward to its divine fulfilment, finding there its true significance and meaning. Finally, there is the sheer beauty and perfection with which Sri Aurobindo has expressed his insights. We know from the Record of Yoga how much of his personal sadhana was directed towards the perfecting of his mind and will as instruments of expression for the truths he encountered. The awesome quality of his writings, especially Savitri, is perhaps the most concrete proof of the validity of his psychological theories and the efficacy of the methods of his Yoga.
One of the things one would like to see at present is that more people begin to study his work, delve into the treasure house of the spirit, open their mind to its marvellous vistas, open their heart to the infinite love and wisdom that is hiding below the surface of our human existence.
It is with this in mind that the Second International Conference on Integral Psychology was organised.
The Second International Conference on Integral Psychology
The first International Conference on Integral Psychology was held in Matagiri in October 1999. There is a tangible spiritual atmosphere in Matagiri and this meeting of about 28 people, all deeply interested in both psychology and Integral Yoga, was marked by a sustained sense of harmony and genuine communion. The second conference, of which this book contains the proceedings, was in this respect a true continuation of the first. But there were two areas in which the second conference differed considerably from the first: the variety of the participants and the richness of intellectual content. When we formulated the central objective for this second conference as the building of bridges between Sri Aurobindo's work and Psychology as an academic science, we could hardly imagine how well this objective would be reflected in the backgrounds of the 110 participants and in the topics of the 24 formal presentations and the multitude of informal exchanges. There were 3 representatives from the California Institute of Integral Studies, which was founded in the early fifties with the express purpose of introducing Indian Culture, and especially Sri Aurobindo's thought, into the social sciences. There were scholars from Harvard and New York, from the universities of London and Paris, from several other cities of Europe, from Athens and Jerusalem, from all major regions of India and of course from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville. Most participants, but not all, had a deep involvement in Sri Aurobindo's Yoga and the majority were psychologists, though a few other disciplines also had their representatives: medicine, philosophy, education and even one each from applied mathematics and theoretical physics.
The topics of the 24 papers presented during this conference cover a correspondingly wide area. For the purpose of these proceedings we have grouped them under five different headings:
- Integral psychology itself
- Integral psychotherapy
- Integral yoga and the Indian tradition
- Modern psychology and spirituality
- Epistemology and methodology
- The transcripts of two experiential workshops
As could be expected from authors with such different backgrounds, their papers contain different and here and there contradictory positions. A further elaboration, and often a reconciliation, of these different viewpoints took place during informal discussions in between the sessions. From all these unrecorded discussions, one remark stood out for me. It was made in the context of psychotherapy, where the differences in approach were perhaps the most striking. Someone had noted that while in the West psychotherapy is considered essential to overcome psychological difficulties, in India people don't trust it, perhaps because they feel that it is not sufficiently in harmony with the essence of their being. Dr. Kiran Kumar then said something that, I think, contains in seed-form the very essence of integral psychology. He said,—I'm quoting from memory,— "if I have a psychological problem, I don't look for the person who has the highest degree or the most sophisticated method, I look for the one who has the highest consciousness." In integral psychotherapy we should do the same: we should use the system that is based on the highest consciousness. This is not Jung's or Freud's, but Sri Aurobindo's. This approach, I think, holds equally for integral psychology. What makes a school of psychology integral is not just that it covers all aspects and levels of the being, let alone that it amalgamates all available ways of looking at human consciousness and behaviour. A true synthesis transcends and integrates all these various types and fields of knowledge in the highest consciousness. In the individual, a real integration of the nature is only possible around what Sri Aurobindo calls the Psychic Being, and it can find its fulfilment only in the supramental consciousness. The same must be true for Integral Psychology.
This acknowledgement of the primacy of consciousness is closely related to another, seemingly conflicting, but in reality complementary insight, an insight that one finds back again and again, throughout the Indian tradition. Sri Aurobindo expresses it in The Synthesis of Yoga as follows: "The supreme Shastra is the eternal Veda secret in the heart of every thinking and living being." (p. 53) It is true that most of us do need therapists and gurus, scriptures and theoretical systems to get us moving in the right direction, but in the end, the only knowledge that is truly transformative is still the knowledge that is found inside our own heart.
It is thus not enough for a conference on integral psychology to bring people from very different locations, cultural backgrounds and academic disciplines together in an atmosphere of beauty and spiritual presence. The most important is not the bridge between big things, like “Yoga” and “Psychology”, and perhaps not even the numerous small bridges between people from different backgrounds and disciplines, though there were plenty of occasions for all those. The most crucial bridge is the inner bridge, the bridge between our psyche and our outer being, between our soul and our mind and vital. I think one can say without much exaggeration that this was the major motivation for the participants to the conference: they came with the hope and expectation to bring their inner reality and their outer mental framework closer together, to forge a closer clink between their highest aspirations and their daily work. For we all have these two worlds in ourselves. Our minds are trained in the ways of science, while our soul and our inner consciousness are the stuff that Integral Yoga deals with. Almost every speaker mentioned this aspect in some way or another, sometimes explicitly by speaking about it; sometimes, even more impressively, by the way they delivered their presentation. I hope that even in each of the written texts of these proceedings you will find this living link back in some way or another. I hope even more fervently that reading this book will encourage you to bring all the different parts of your being together under influence of the highest, most beautiful part of your self, the psychic being, the divine spark, which is hidden in the heart of man:
...A being no bigger than the thumb of man
To face the pang and to forget the bliss,
To share the suffering and endure earth's wounds
And labour mid the labour of the stars.
This in us laughs and weeps, suffers the stroke,
Exults in victory, struggles for the crown;
Identified with the mind and body and life,
It takes on itself their anguish and defeat,
Bleeds with Fate's whips and hangs upon the cross,
Yet is the unwounded and immortal self
Supporting the actor in the human scene.
Through this she sends us her glory and her powers,
Pushes to wisdom's heights, through misery's gulfs;
She gives us strength to do our daily task
And sympathy that partakes of others' grief
And the little strength we have to help our race,
We who must fill the role of the universe
Acting itself out in a slight human shape
And on our shoulders carry the struggling world.
This is in us the godhead small and marred;
In this human portion of divinity
She seats the greatness of the Soul in Time
To uplift from light to light, from power to power,
Till on a heavenly peak it stands, a king.
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, pp. 526-27
For it is only through the psychic transformation spoken of here, that we can safely enter on the long road towards the glorious future that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother envisioned for humanity.