Yoga has historically focused on liberation of the individual soul from the illusion of the outer world. The seeker is advised to see through the transitory nature of all external rewards, undertake practices that help him to discover his true self, and once that is done, live a life, free from the normal sense of human bondage, until such time as he can escape the cycle of rebirth entirely. The practice s focused on individual salvation. The goal is ‘other-worldly’. The external world, the society, in which the individual lives is given little consequence, and is treated either as a dream, an illusion or an inconvenience or impediment.

It is of course essential that the seeker find a way to free himself from the illusory pursuits of the external world. Liberation, in that sense, is a basic requirement. In the Buddhist tradition there is a Bodhisattwa vow that the seeker will not undertake his own liberation until such time as his presence in the world can aid the liberation of every other sentient being. We see here a purpose infused into the life in the world, and that is to aid other beings who are misled about the illusory nature of the outer existence.

Sri Aurobindo takes a different view of the matter, as he does not accept the duality of world versus Spirit. Rather, the world is a manifestation of Spirit, the creation has a divine purpose, and the objective of the seeker is not to escape from existence, but to participate in the manifestation and the unfoldment of its objective, which he shows to be intimately tied to a progressive unfoldment or evolution of consciousness and the increasing unification between Matter and Spirit that such an increasing awareness makes obvious. There is one reality, it is ‘real’, not illusory in its essence. The illusion is the fixation on the external ego-personality and its short-term ideas about success and enjoyment in the world. When the seeker aligns with the larger universal consciousness, he achieves union with the Divine, and can act in the world as a node or nexus of the spiritual energy that is in process of creating the universal manifestation.

Dr. Dalal observes: “Traditionally the term ‘yoga’ — which literally means ‘union’ — has been generally understood as a path which aims at achieving the union of the individual self with the Universal Self so as to lead to liberation from the ignorance and suffering of life on earth. In Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, which aims at not only the liberation of the individual soul but also the transformation of earthly life, yoga implies not only union of the individual soul with the Divine but also the union of the outer being with the soul and the unification of one’s being around the soul, for, according to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, it is only through such a unification of one’s being that the Divine can be made to manifest and transform the earthly life.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Preface, pg. xv

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.