The aim of spiritual seeking and yoga, historically, has been the liberation of the individual seeker and achievement of enlightenment. In many cases, this has involved making a choice between living “in the world” or abandoning the worldly life. Some traditions, such as the Buddhist Mahayana tradition, developed the concept of the Bodhisattva, who at the very threshold of enlightment and liberation turns back to help all other beings achieve this liberation before passing beyond.

Sri Aurobindo shifts the focus from individual liberation to achieve a transformation of life on earth through the evolution of consciousness to the next phase, the supramental consciousness. Individual realisation is a precursor, so there are many shared steps along the path, but the aim and goal differs in that where traditional spiritual paths focus on the dissolution of the outer life or the achievement of an other-worldly result, such as attaining heaven after death, the integral yoga looks to use the foundation of realisation as a basis for the descent of that next plane of consciousness into the earthly life, thus creating a divine life on earth.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “I meant by it the descent of the supramental consciousness upon earth; all truths below the supramental (even that of the highest spiritual on the mental plane, which is the highest that has yet manifested) are either partial or relative or otherwise deficient and unable to transform the earthly life; they can only at most modify and influence it. The supermind is the vast Truth-Consciousness of which the ancient seers spoke; there have been glimpses of it till now, sometimes an indirect influence or pressure, but it has not been brought down into the consciousness of the earth and fixed there. To so bring it down is the aim of our yoga.”

“But it is better not to enter into sterile intellectual discussions. The intellectual mind cannot even realise what the supermind is; what use, then, can there be in allowing it to discuss what it does not know? It is not by reasoning but by constant experience, growth of consciousness and widening into the Light that one can reach those higher levels of consciousness above the intellect from which one can begin to look up to the Divine Gnosis. Those levels are not yet the supermind, but they can receive something of its knowledge.”

“The Vedic Rishis never attained to the supermind for the earth or perhaps did not even make the attempt. They tried to rise individually to the supramental plane, but they did not bring it down and make it a permanent part of the earth-consciousness. Even there are verses of the Upanishad in which it is hinted that it is impossible to pass through the gates of the Sun (the symbol of the supermind) and yet retain an earthly body. It was because of this failure that the spiritual effort of India culminated in Mayavada. Our yoga is a double movement of ascent and descent; one rises to higher and higher levels of consciousness, but at the same time one brings down their power not only into mind and life, but in the end even into the body. And the highest of these levels, the one at which it aims is the supermind. Only when that can be brought down is a divine transformation possible in the earth-consciousness.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, The Integral Yoga and Other Systems of Yoga and Philosophy, pp. 35-42

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971. He is author of a daily blog on this subject at He is author of 16 books of Readings in Sri Aurobindo's major works and editor in chief at Lotus Press. Santosh is President of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.