Integral Yoga & Human Defects (III): Sri Aurobindo on Psychoanalysis

(Different illustration but same text as in my French original previous article)


3 When Satprem published extracts from this conversation in the Ashram Bulletin of April 1962, Mother had this passage modified (over his protests). Instead of “Do not try to be virtuous,” she put “Do not try to seem virtuous”; and she added: “There’s a drawback here. People never understand anything, or rather they understand everything in their own way. They would take this sentence as an encouragement to get into mischief, to misbehave, to entertain wrong feelings, and then proclaim, ‘We are the Lord’s favorites!’… There was something like it in one of Sri Aurobindo’s letters, you remember – a letter to people who wanted to bring all the impurities in themselves out to the surface; he told them that was definitely not the way!” (See Sri Aurobindo’s two letters on psychoanalysis in the Addendum.)


(Two letters of Sri Aurobindo on psychoanalysis)

Your practice of psycho-analysis was a mistake. It has, for the time at least, made the work of purification more complicated, not easier. The psycho-analysis of Freud is the last thing that one should associate with yoga. It takes up a certain part, the darkest, the most perilous, the unhealthiest part of the nature, the lower vital subconscious layer, isolates some of its most morbid phenomena and attributes to it and them an action out of all proportion to its true role in the nature. Modern psychology is an infant science, at once rash, fumbling and crude. As in all infant sciences, the universal habit of the human mind – to take a partial or local truth, generalise it unduly and try to explain a whole field of Nature in its narrow terms – runs riot here. Moreover, the exaggeration of the importance of suppressed sexual complexes is a dangerous falsehood and it can have a nasty influence and tend to make the mind and vital more and not less fundamentally impure than before.

It is true that the subliminal in man is the largest part of his nature and has in it the secret of the unseen dynamisms which explain his surface activities. But the lower vital subconscious which is all that this psycho-analysis of Freud seems to know, – and even of that it knows only a few ill-lit corners, – is no more than a restricted and very inferior portion of the subliminal whole. The subliminal self stands behind and supports the whole superficial man; it has in it a larger and more efficient mind behind the surface mind, a larger and more powerful vital behind the surface vital, a subtler and freer physical consciousness behind the surface bodily existence. And above them it opens to higher superconscient as well as below them to lower subconscient ranges. If one wishes to purify and transform the nature, it is the power of these higher ranges to which one must open and raise to them and change by them both the subliminal and the surface being. Even this should be done with care, not prematurely or rashly, following a higher guidance, keeping always the right attitude; for otherwise the force that is drawn down may be too strong for an obscure and weak frame of nature. But to begin by opening up the lower subconscious, risking to raise up all that is foul or obscure in it, is to go out of one’s way to invite trouble. First, one should make the higher mind and vital strong and firm and full of light and peace from above; afterwards one can open up or even dive into the subconscious with more safety and some chance of a rapid and successful change.

The system of getting rid of things by anubhava [experience] can also be a dangerous one; for on this way one can easily become more entangled instead of arriving at freedom. This method has behind it two well-known psychological motives. One, the motive of purposeful exhaustion, is valid only in some cases, especially when some natural tendency has too strong a hold or too strong a drive in it to be got rid of by vicara [intellectual reflection] or by the process of rejection and the substitution of the true movement in its place; when that happens in excess, the sadhak has sometimes even to go back to the ordinary action of the ordinary life, get the true experience of it with a new mind and will behind and then return to the spiritual life with the obstacle eliminated or else ready for elimination. But this method of purposive indulgence is always dangerous, though sometimes inevitable. It succeeds only when there is a very strong will in the being towards realisation; for then indulgence brings a strong dissatisfaction and reaction, vairagya, and the will towards perfection can be carried down into the recalcitrant part of the nature.

The other motive for anubhava is of a more general applicability; for in order to reject anything from the being one has first to become conscious of it, to have the clear inner experience of its action and to discover its actual place in the workings of the nature. One can then work upon it to eliminate it, if it is an entirely wrong movement, or to transform it if it is only the degradation of a higher and true movement. It is this or something like it that is attempted crudely and improperly with a rudimentary and insufficient knowledge in the system of psycho-analysis. The process of raising up the lower movements into the full light of consciousness in order to know and deal with them is inevitable; for there can be no complete change without it. But it can truly succeed only when a higher light and force are sufficiently at work to overcome, sooner or later, the force of the tendency that is held up for change. Many, under the pretext of anubhava, not only raise up the adverse movement, but support it with their consent instead of rejecting it, find justifications for continuing or repeating it and so go on playing with it, indulging its return, eternising it; afterwards when they want to get rid of it, it has got such a hold that they find themselves helpless in its clutch and only a terrible struggle or an intervention of divine grace can liberate them. Some do this out of a vital twist or perversity, others out of sheer ignorance; but in yoga, as in life, ignorance is not accepted by Nature as a justifying excuse. This danger is there in all improper dealings with the ignorant parts of the nature; but none is more ignorant, more perilous, more unreasoning and obstinate in recurrence than the lower vital subconscious and its movements. To raise it up prematurely or improperly for anubhava is to risk suffusing the conscious parts also with its dark and dirty stuff and thus poisoning the whole vital and even the mental nature. Always therefore one should begin by a positive, not a negative experience, by bringing down something of the divine nature, calm, light, equanimity, purity, divine strength into the parts of the conscious being that have to be changed; only when that has been sufficiently done and there is a firm positive basis, is it safe to raise up the concealed subconscious adverse elements in order to destroy and eliminate them by the strength of the divine calm, light, force and knowledge. Even so, there will be enough of the lower stuff rising up of itself to give you as much of the anubhava as you will need for getting rid of the obstacles; but then they can be dealt with with much less danger and under a higher internal guidance.

*   *

I find it difficult to take these psycho-analysts at all seriously when they try to scrutinise spiritual experience by the flicker of their torch-lights, – yet perhaps one ought to, for half-knowledge is a powerful thing and can be a great obstacle to the coming in front of the true Truth. This new psychology looks to me very much like children learning some summary and not very adequate alphabet, exulting in putting their a-b-c-d of the subconscient and the mysterious underground super-ego together and imagining that their first book of obscure beginnings (c-a-t cat, t-r-e-e tree) is the very heart of the real knowledge. They look from down up and explain the higher lights by the lower obscurities; but the foundation of these things is above and not below, upari budhna esam. The superconscient, not the subconscient, is the true foundation of things. The significance of the lotus is not to be found by analysing the secrets of the mud from which it grows here; its secret is to be found in the heavenly archetype of the lotus that blooms for ever in the Light above. The self-chosen field of these psychologists is besides poor, dark and limited; you must know the whole before you can know the part and the highest before you can truly understand the lowest. That is the promise of the greater psychology awaiting its hour before which these poor gropings will disappear and come to nothing.


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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. donsalmon
    Jun 24, 2019 @ 14:39:05

    Ok, forgive me for being a bit critical.

    One of the most frustrating things, for me, in the world of integral yoga is the tendency to take something said by Sri Aurobindo (in this instance, over 80 years ago) and apply it uncritically to something happening today.

    Bhaga, I have no idea if this applies specifically to you, but I know many devotees who, when hearing the world “psychoanalysis” (or even worse, “psychotherapy”) will simply quote this letter you posted as if it is applicable, without any thought, to all therapy.

    1. I think that Sri Aurobindo’s comment is perfectly applicable to he way psychoanalysis was practiced a century ago.

    2. Almost no therapists practice psychoanalysis today as it was practiced a century ago.

    3. Yet IY’ers will, upon hearing about therapy today, apply Sri Aurobindo’s comment as if it was fully applicable to the therapy of today.

    I find this is the case with many many many things that Sri Aurobindo wrote a century ago. One of the comments of his that I keep very much in my consciousness when reading Sri Aurobindo refers to the fact that he completely deconstructed and reconstituted his entire “system” (that was his word) FOUR TIMES.

    So people will quote something he wrote in 1900 as if it were intended to convey the exact same Consciousness as something he wrote in 1949.

    This is religion.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Bhaga
      Jun 24, 2019 @ 17:02:52

      Be immediately reassured, Don, that I am not only extremely aware of those very words of Sri Aurobindo (in his ‘Conversations with Pavitra’ in 1926) that you mention, but aware also that Mother too of course kept saying her words should never be taken as dogmas. I myself always check the date when this or that has been said by them. I recommend to all my students to do the same, and I explain to them why. Still, I think the two texts quoted stand the test of time and still have enough validity to be quite useful to many of the visitors to this Research Blog. But here in India is too late for me to start right away explaining how and why, so please forgive me, it will be for tomorrow morning, just as.I intended anyway to do it in my next article on still the same so important topic. 😊



  2. donsalmon
    Jun 24, 2019 @ 14:44:22

    In profound contrast (as we just presented at the AUM 2 evenings ago), psychiatrist Dan Siegel has taught over 30,000 people his ‘Wheel of Awareness” exercise – with the “rim” of the wheel being everything we are conscious OF – and at the hub, the center, pure conscious Being.

    This is being taught to thousands of children as well in schools around the world. People describe experiences (many of whom have never meditated or even had any interest in spirituality) of timelessness, infinity, a stillness they never conceived before, warmth, vastness, luminosity, etc.

    Dan has used this with many so-called “disorders” – bipolar, post traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, etc with profound results.

    He defines well being as “integration” – integration of brain and nervous system, of al systems of the body, of the mind/heart/life/body and other people, of all living beings, of the entire universe.

    it is then possible to go from glimpses of this all-encompassing Awareness, to creating external laws, art, science, economics, governance, etc which

    (a) help to harmonize the brain, nervous system, etc


    (b) evoke increasing glimpses of that all encompassing Awareness.

    Hardly a process of explaining the higher lights by the lower obscurities!



    • Bhaga
      Jun 24, 2019 @ 17:27:02

      I am so glad that you provide such a wonderful example, Don. Sri Aurobindo and Mother too must be happy to see how receptive such a great being has been to the new concepts and understandings and lights they themselves have introduced in Humanity’s Collective Mind. Now does the existence of a Dan Siegel in the US preclude already the existence still in many places of other psychologists or psychiatrists not as advanced in their thinking as he is? In those cases, is Sri Aurobindo’s warning and clear indications of what to avoid and what on the contrary should be done, and in which order, is that advice so outdated and useless as you make it to be?…
      But more about this… tomorrow morning, when a new dawn will find me rested after a good night’s sleep! 😆



      • donsalmon
        Jun 24, 2019 @ 19:45:05

        hi again – hopefully the rest of the new dawn maintains infinite calm and peace in the cells, as always:>))

        I am not aware of any therapists I have read about (and I try to keep a sense of how the process of therapy is going around the world, as much as possible, including groups with thousands of therapists globally) – I am not aware of any at least in the last quarter century who still maintain the old Freudian view, at least in the extreme form which Sri Aurobindo rightly critiqued from a century ago, but which by even the 1970s was dissolving and by the end of the 20th century – the idea that all can be explained by the vital – was pretty much gone.

        now, there’s something much worse – which isn’t quite caught by His comments – that all can be explained by the purely physical. There are other comments from Sri Aurobindo, written even before WW 1, which to me are better refutations of materialism/positivism/physicalism/naturalism-fundamateralism – than anything I’ve seen from contemporary philosophers.

        So of course I’m not saying nothing Sri Aurobindo wrote 100 years ago is applicable! Savitri is eternally young, just to mention one:>))

        Just this particular point about psychoanalysis and explaining the higher Reality by the lower vital – and the fact that it has been almost obliterated as a point to be taken seriously is actually, I believe a tribute to Sri Aurobindo!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. donsalmon
    Jun 24, 2019 @ 19:48:58

    Here it is – from the first volume of Letters on Yoga. I read this in 1976, have talked or corresponded with hundreds if not thousands of scientists since then, including quite a few who have worked decades on their critiques, and have never found anything as clear as this regarding the limitations of our contemporary form of science: (this is not one to just read through quickly; there is a universe of wisdom in each sentence – I don’t think i’d be exaggerating to say I’ve read it well over 100 times; 3 chapters of our book on yoga psychology were basically on these topics, and I spent much of the 5 years working on the book focusing on these ideas; I spent the summer of 2011 working on “Shaving Science With Ockham’s Razor,” and this was very much in the front of my consciousness, and still today, I am in awe of the universe, the infinitudes of wisdom in this passage:


    The more you go inward or upward, the more the view of things changes and the outer knowledge Science organises takes its real and very limited place. Science, like most mental and external knowledge, gives you only truth of process. I would add that it cannot give you even the whole truth of process; for you seize some of the ponderables, but miss the all-important imponderables; you get, hardly even the how, but the conditions under which things happen in Nature. After all the triumphs and marvels of Science the explaining principle, the rationale, the significance of the whole is left as dark, as mysterious and even more mysterious than ever. The scheme it has built up of the evolution not only of this rich and vast and variegated material world, but of life and consciousness and mind and their workings out of a brute mass of electrons, identical and varied only in arrangement and number, is an irrational magic more baffling than any the most mystic imagination could conceive. Science in the end lands us in a paradox effectuated, an organised and rigidly determined accident, an impossibility that has somehow happened,– it has shown us a new, a material Maya, aghaṭana-ghaṭana-paṭīyasī, very clever at bringing about the impossible, a miracle that cannot logically be and yet somehow is there actual, irresistibly organised, but still irrational and inexplicable. And this is evidently because Science has missed something essential; it has seen and scrutinised what has happened and in a way how it has happened, but it has shut its eyes to something that made this impossible possible, something it is there to express. There is no fundamental significance in things if you miss the Divine Reality; for you remain embedded in a huge surface crust of manageable and utilisable appearance. It is the magic of the Magician you are trying to analyse, but only when you enter into the consciousness of the Magician himself can you begin to experience the true origination, significance and circles of the Lila. I say “begin” because the Divine Reality is not so simple that at the first touch you can know all of it or put it into a single formula; it is the Infiniteand opens before you an infinite knowledge to which all Science put together is a bagatelle. But still you do touch the essential, the eternal behind things and in the light of That all begins to be profoundly luminous, intimately intelligible.

    Liked by 2 people


  4. donsalmon
    Jun 24, 2019 @ 19:55:11

    For example, if you take some time and reflect on what physics knows of energy or matter (the more honest ones tell you “we have no idea what either is; we only study their appearances”, that biologists have never been able to agree on what life is, and if you have the infinite patience to dive into the utter inanities uttered by”psychologists’ (hardly even scientists!! I know, I’m a psychologist) regarding mind and consciousness, well, you have some glimmer of what Sri Aurobindo means by only knowing the truth of process.

    But he goes on, not even the truth of process:

    “I would add that it cannot give you even the whole truth of process; for you seize some of the ponderables, but miss the all-important imponderables; you get, hardly even the how, but the conditions under which things happen in Nature.”

    A few, like the great physicist Richard Feynman, will admit something along these lines: “We have to admit that today, we have no idea what energy is.”

    Or Heisenberg: “It is not nature we are studying, but the response of nature to our questions.”

    Or Steven Hawking: “What is it that gives fire to our equations?”

    Scientists for the most part know nothing of Agni, but only a few can acknowledge this.

    So they end up like nobel prize winning physicist, Steven Weinberg, who was horrified when a friend, echoing sri Aurobindo, said, “you know, science doesn’t’ really explain anything, it only describes.”

    So Weinberg put together his famous (infamous??) 2003 New York Review of Books essay, “Does Science Explain Everything? Anything?”

    He almost got it; he almost got to the point where he admitted in the conventional sense of the word “explain,” science indeed explains nothing. But then he did a little wiggling to get out of it, saying, “So why should we (scientists) accept the philosophers’ definition of “explanation?” We scientists can have our own meaning, and in that sense, science does explain everything.”

    And what, according to Weinberg, is the ultimate explanation? “The more we discover about the universe, the more we realize it is pointless, meaningless.”

    And thus, we have Sri Aurobindo, nearly a century ago, far far wiser than the scientists, with an infinitely deeper understanding of the limits of our current science than all but a few truly humble and sincere scientists.

    Liked by 1 person


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