Interview with Santosh Krinsky, student of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga.
SK I first came in contact with Sri Aurobindo’s writings in 1971, so it is more than 32 years now.
SK I was attending college
majoring in psychology, sociology and philosophy at the time. It was a time of major protest against the
Vietnam war and I was active in starting a food co op
and protesting the war. At a certain
point in time I understood that nothing was going to change based on political
forces changing, but that the underlying issues of human nature were going to
simply continue recreating the same problems time and again. This was the lesson of history. I became convinced that the only true change
was through a change in consciousness.
The result of this was that I dropped out of school and because of
certain inner experiences I was undergoing, I began studying yoga. I spent some time reading works by Ouespensky, Steiner and other modern European writers, and
eventually traveled to
SK The first thing I did was to begin to read everything I could get my hands on by Sri Aurobindo, who was after all a prolific writer. This occupied quite some time. It was also somewhat of a challenge. I had no steady job, no money and was living basically from day to day. I was in a foreign country. I found a metaphysical bookstore called Middle Earth and basically spent my days there. The people were very kind to me and let me stay there, read books all day and drink herb tea. If I occasionally got a few dollars I bought some incense from them!
SK. Yes. It was clear to me that Sri Aurobindo had a very clear understanding of human psychology, the traditional paths of yoga, and the needs of the time. He also had a strong sense about the process of social and political change which resonated with my own background quite well. He was clearly pointing out that true change is inner change, a change of consciousness, and that must be the foundation of any change in society, if it is to be meaningful, lasting and positive.
SK. Recognizing that Sri Aurobindo himself did
not put much stock in “biography” on an outer level, I can tell you that he was
a leading proponent in India for attaining independence from British rule
around the beginning of the 20th century. He started a magazine and was arrested for
sedition by the British, but was not convicted.
He was accused later of running a revolutionary cell and was implicated
by the British in a bomb conspiracy case.
He was jailed and put on trial.
While in jail he began to experience various yogic experiences and
eventually he was acquitted and freed, but the time in jail turned his
direction toward yoga. He had another
experience where his brother was extremely ill and a wandering yogi came
through and by chanting mantras over a glass of water was able to cure his
brother’s illness. He reflected on this
and decided that anything that was that powerful was going to be an important
force in achieving independence. This led him to the practice of yoga. He experienced the silence of the mind and a
number of further experiences along the path of yoga, and finally, he
SK It is somewhat of a challenge to do that briefly, given that Sri Aurobindo himself wrote extensively. However, there are certainly some major lines of understanding that he develops and which are themes that could be discussed. First and foremost, I believe, Sri Aurobindo has addressed the primacy of consciousness creating the entire world, and all the different parts and levels of our being and our lives. He points out that similar to the acorn containing the pattern of the oak tree involved within it, all beings in the universe have their own pattern contained “in seed” within us. We are therefore all evolving, or manifesting if you will, what we are in our deepest essence.
Sri Aurobindo was not trying to develop a creed, cult, religion or movement. He has very little concern about what religion someone adheres to or what philosophy they adopt. Of much more interest to him is whether they are culturing consciousness within themselves and gaining a deeper insight and understanding about their own lives and practicing the techniques that help them gain insight and mastery in their own lives.
SK Sri Aurobindo describes basically all the different methods of culturing consciousness, whether they are called yoga, faith, religious ecstasy, meditation, contemplation, mysticism and points out that each individual, at various times or stages of their development, may find value in any or all of these methods. They are all available for use by the seeker at the appropriate time and in the right circumstances. No single technique is “prescribed” for everyone at all times because he understands the uniqueness and individuality of the circumstances and the needs of the seeker. At the same time, he has helped develop a framework to put these various techniques in perspective so that one can clearly understand what is going on and why, and know when the tool is there to aid one, and when it has become a hindrance or obstacle and has to be overpassed.
SK I would say that for me the clear distinction is the ability to utilize a variety of methods but to remain focused on the primary goal which is the culturing of consciousness. Sri Aurobindo has also clarified the role of the soul or psychic being in the evolutionary process, and its ability to act as the leader or guide of the instruments of our physical life on earth through the mind, the life force and emotions and the body. Finally, Sri Aurobindo has made it clear that we are looking at a very narrow slice of time and evolutionary stage of the universe and that within a larger context, our human capacities and processes are not the final term of that evolution, but an intermediate stage. He shows the progression of the evolution of consciousness from a completely “involved” state as found in matter, through a stage where life energy and awareness begins to evolve in the plant and later the animal stages, to the point where a higher mental awareness and self awareness begins to be seen at the human level. He indicates that this is by no means the final stage of the evolution of consciousness and that there are other stages of consciousness, beyond the mental level, where new powers of integration and understanding are at play. Our disharmonies in the mental world can be resolved through the integrative, global vision of the next stage of evolution of consciousness. Eventually he called the fully integrated, knowledge-consciousness level the “supramental” level, meaning simply, “beyond the mind”.
His aim is the actual transformation of life itself rather than an other-worldly focus on salvation or escape from life. He speaks about the development of a “divine life on earth” based on the manifestation of this new level of consciousness and its ability to restructure life replacing disharmony and imperfect understanding with harmony, light and freedom.
SK There are really some very good introductions available. The Future Evolution of Man gives a great overview of the vast evolutionary sweep and the steps along the way. The Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice is a great book for both getting an overview of the philosophical perspective and learning about the various steps and practices for integrating this into one’s life. In the end, Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that just reading or studying is insufficient. One must actually practice in order to get results. I think it is this very practical focus on bringing the teachings into one’s life on a daily basis that is perhaps one of the most valuable points that Sri Aurobindo makes repeatedly.
SK I have always been very interested in seeing how individual and social change go hand in hand. Sri Aurobindo’s statement in this regard is a guiding light for this concern: "The most vital issue of the age is whether the future progress of humanity is to be governed by the modern economic and materialistic mind of the West or by a nobler pragmatism guided, uplifted and enlightened by spiritual culture and knowledge...." As a practical person, and someone who is interested in the survival of humanity and the development of a more enlightened humanity that becomes a true caretaker for the planet, this issue resonates with me on a daily basis.
SK Thank you. I would like to mention that it is very hard for any individual to truly provide the “essence” of what Sri Aurobindo is saying to us in our struggles at this time in human history, and I would encourage your readers to take the opportunity to engage his writings for themselves. Regardless of the path or spiritual discipline, I have always found that there is a value to having a relationship with great minds, great souls and great thinkers, as they help to clarify, uplift and guide, even if their teachings are vastly different from my own beliefs. Sri Aurobindo certainly is one of those souls whose writings can be of such value to just about anyone, even if the contact is brief. In fact, many of today’s great authors have acknowledged the role that Sri Aurobindo has played in their own formulations, people such as Ken Wilbur (noted academic and author), Michael Murphy (founder of Esalen and author) and others. Many modern-day yogis such as Sri Chinmoy and Swami Satchidananda also found inspiration from Sri Aurobindo’s work. His integrative awareness, his blending of the energy of the West with the insight and inner practices of the East make his efforts particularly relevant to the struggles going on everywhere in the world today.
Reprint of article published in Evolve! Magazine Winter 2004 Issue
© 2003, 2004 Evolve! Magazine, a publication of New Leaf, Atlanta, GA.