The Yoga of Self-Perfection and the Triple Transformation by Richard Hartz Science, Culture and Integral Yoga Mon 13 Aug 2007 Permanent Link [2:26 PM]
In the Yoga of self-perfection as described in The Synthesis and the Record of Yoga, a purification of the Prana enabling the emotional mind to “mirror the real soul in us, the Divine in our hearts”, would be regarded as part of śuddhi. In Sri Aurobindo’s later reformulation of the integral Yoga it would come under the heading of psychicisation or psychic transformation...
In the Yoga of self-perfection, śuddhi or purification is followed by mukti or liberation, then by bhukti, “a cosmic enjoyment of the power of the Spirit”, and siddhi or perfection. The order of the last two was sometimes reversed, with implications which we will see. But in the subsequent period, instead of four stages of self-perfection we hear of a triple transformation: psychic, spiritual and supramental. At first sight, the systems appear to be quite different. Yet there are correspondences between them which shed light on the continuity as well as the evolution of Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual experience.
Purification is a preparation for liberation. It can even be said that it is itself a kind of liberation:
Śuddhi is the condition for mukti. All purification is a release, a delivery; for it is a throwing away of limiting, binding, obscuring imperfections and confusions.... But all this is an instrumental liberation. The freedom of the soul, mukti, is of a larger and more essential character; it is an opening out of mortal limitation into the illimitable immortality of the Spirit.
The concept of liberation, like that of purification, acquires a more dynamic sense in the integral Yoga than is conventionally associated with it—although this was amply foreshadowed in the Gita and elsewhere, where liberation does not imply cessation from action. Just as he makes a distinction between negative and positive purity, Sri Aurobindo also distinguishes negative from positive freedom, insisting in this case on the necessity of both. The “negative movement of freedom” is defined as “a liberation from the principal bonds, the master-knots of the lower soul-nature”, these bonds being “desire, ego, the dualities and the three gunas of Nature”. The “positive sense of freedom”, on the other hand, “is to be universal in soul, transcendently one in spirit with God, possessed of the highest divine nature”.
What concerns us here is how mukti or liberation, as a step towards self-perfection, relates to the spiritual transformation which follows the psychic transformation in Sri Aurobindo’s later accounts of the Yoga. We have seen that the purification of the nature, liberating as it is in itself, is insufficient unless it is completed by a larger freedom which universalises the soul and brings it into union with the transcendent. Likewise the psychic transformation is not all that is needed for the largest spiritual change. In the first place, since this is the individual soul in Nature, it can open to the hidden diviner ranges of our being and receive and reflect their light and power and experience, but another, a spiritual transformation from above is needed for us to possess our self in its universality and transcendence.
But even the freedom that the spiritual transformation brings was not enough for Sri Aurobindo. In almost all traditional systems of Yoga except Tantra, inner liberation was pursued as an end in itself. In the Yoga of self-perfection, on the other hand, not only is the meaning of mukti enlarged to include liberation of the nature as well as liberation of the spirit, but even this leads beyond itself to bhukti and siddhi. We meet a similar situation in the case of the triple transformation, as described by Sri Aurobindo near the end of the revised text of The Life Divine and in other writings of the 1930s and 1940s. In a letter of that period, he indicates the liberating and other effects of spiritualisation, the second transformation, but also points out why a still greater transformation is needed to complete it:
Spiritualisation means the descent of the higher peace, force, light, knowledge, purity, Ananda, etc., which belong to any of the higher planes from Higher Mind to overmind, for in any of these the Self can be realised. It brings about a subjective transformation; the instrumental Nature is only so far transformed that it becomes an instrument for the Cosmic Divine to get some work done, but the self within remains calm and free and united with the Divine. But this is an incomplete individual transformation—the full transformation of the instrumental Nature can only come when the supramental change takes place. Till then the nature remains full of many imperfections, but the Self in the higher planes does not mind them, as it is itself free and unaffected.
The process of spiritualisation occupied Sri Aurobindo for many years. It involved not one, but several transformations by the ever-increasing power of a series of ascending planes. On each of them “the static realisation of Infinity and Eternity and the Timeless One remains the same,” but “the vision of the workings of the One becomes ever wider and is attended with a greater instrumentality of Force”. From the point of view of knowledge, “what is thought-knowledge in the Higher Mind becomes illumination in the Illumined Mind and direct intimate vision in the Intuition”. Still higher is the overmind, which sees not “in flashes”, like the Intuition, but “calmly, steadily, in great masses and large extensions of space and time and relation, globally”. But even here there “is not the absolute supramental harmony and certitude”. Sri Aurobindo saw in the end that nothing short of what he called a supramental transformation could bring about the integral perfection or siddhi “which finishes the passage of the soul through the Ignorance and bases its consciousness, its life, its power and form of manifestation on a complete and completely effective self-knowledge”.
We find, then, that there is a broad correspondence between the “triple transformation” and three stages of the earlier Yoga of self-perfection termed śuddhi, mukti and siddhi, or purification, liberation and perfection—we will see in a moment why there is nothing in the later scheme that seems to correspond to bhukti. The system presented in the unfinished Part Four of The Synthesis of Yoga appears to be superseded by the three transformations—psychic, spiritual and supramental—as the definitive statement of Sri Aurobindo’s distinctive approach to an evolutionary spirituality. But just as the old triple way of Karma, Bhakti and Jnana was surpassed but kept in a new form, so Sri Aurobindo continued to speak of self-perfection as the consummation of the Yoga. In a passage in a letter summarising the Karmayoga as he had “developed it for the integral spiritual life”, he concluded:
Finally, works, bhakti and knowledge go together and self-perfection becomes possible—what we call the transformation of the nature.
There seems to be no good reason to regard the Yoga of self-perfection as out of date or irrelevant in the light of later developments, even though Sri Aurobindo’s account of it published in his major work on Yoga remained incomplete and unrevised. But because the last part of The Synthesis was never revised, its terminology has to be interpreted according to the period when it was written...
In the Introduction to The Synthesis of Yoga, written in 1914, “integral beatitude” follows directly after “integral purity” and “integral liberty” and precedes “integral perfection” in a paragraph giving a brief synopsis of the integrality of the Yoga. But when in March 1919 he came to the fourth chapter of “The Yoga of Self-Perfection”, Sri Aurobindo reversed the order of the last two items and listed them as “purification, liberation, perfection, delight of being... śuddhi, mukti, siddhi, bhukti.”...
In a sense, Sri Aurobindo recognised a quadruple transformation as the complete aim of the integral Yoga. But he insisted that “one must pass through the supermind to arrive to the highest Ananda”. Supramentalisation, the transformation whose accomplishment would constitute the next decisive step in evolution, was his immediate concern.