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Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual stature
A third serious allegation that has been made about the book is that it undercuts Sri Aurobindo’s greatness as a yogi and spiritual being. A corollary argument that has been made in this connection is that the book dismisses as invalid certain types of evidence bearing on Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual realization and experience because they are “subjective” and cannot be verified, including Sri Aurobindo’s own personal statements. Another argument asserts that Peter ends his discussion of Record of Yoga in the year 1913, and on a particularly disappointing entry. It may be pointed out that these two latter arguments contradict each other because the Record of Yoga is, in fact, Sri Aurobindo’s own account of his inner experiences. But the assertion that the entries from the Record of Yoga end in 1913 and conclude on a note of doubt, disappointment, and failure is also false. The particular point in the narrative to which this allegation refers (p. 245) — the end of a long section in which Peter first introduces the Record in extensive detail and presents numerous excerpts both positive and negative — concludes with several quotes that might be considered by some to be negative. However, I would consider the final quote in this section to be a prophetic overall self-assessment of Sri Aurobindo’s sadhana that augured tremendous promise for the future but also a limitation. It seems to me an especially appropriate conclusion to this long introduction to the Record. However one chooses to interpret the conclusion to the section, the main point is that it is not the last entry pertaining to the Record as the critics have claimed. Peter presents additional reports of Sri Aurobindo's entries from the Record of Yoga later in the text up until the very last entry.
For example, there is a very positive entry from the Record from 1917 that “gives the reader a hint of what it is like to be a yogi.”
In the morning [February 5, 1917] sudden efflorescence of a perfect shuddha [pure] anandamaya-vijnanamaya [blissful-gnostic] vision of universal beauty. Every detail is seen in its perfect, divine sense and faery loveliness and in its place in the whole and the divine symmetry of the whole based on its “brihat” [large] Idea, even in what appears to the mind unsymmetrical. This was realised in things yesterday, today in faces, figures, actions, etc. It is not yet stable, but strong and returns in spite of the force that depresses the vision and attempts to return to the diffuse mental view of things.” (p. 312)
Later, Peter goes to the very end of the Record in 1927. He notes again periods of advancement followed by periods of retrogression. He characterizes the entries of the period as follows:
Many entries are concerned with the transformation of "T3" (telepathy-trikaldrishti-tapas) and "T2" (trikaldrishti-tapas) into a superior power "above the Telepathic and above the Tapasic trikalsiddhi [mastery of the three times] and above the combination of these things." This power, called "T" or "Gnostic T", was the true and invincible supermind, which he had been seeking for more than a decade. Around the same time he recorded advances in many other elements of his yoga, such as samadhi (yogic trance), drishti (the power of vision), and ananda (delight on all levels of the being). (p. 348)
This mixed advance and retrogression continued until October 31, when Sri Aurobindo wrote what would be the last surviving dated entry of Record of Yoga:
Today T2 (anishwara [without full power]) has acquired the supramental and gnostic character. Not that all movements have entirely eliminated the mental element, but all are supramental or supramentalized or else even (now to some extent) gnostic overmind. Infallible T2 is beginning more freely to emerge...
Ananda [bliss] is taking possession and becomes automatic, needing only memory or a little attention to act at once. All vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch is now anandamaya [blissful]; even all that is seen, heard, sensed is beginning to be felt as full of ananda and even as if made of Ananda. Sahaituka [stimulated] Ananda of all except event is now automatic. Ahaituka [unstimulated] Ananda within the body shows signs of reaching the same state, but has not quite reached it. This is the only physical siddhi that promises to be soon initially complete; for arogya [health] is still hampered by obstinate minute fragments of illness. (p. 349)
Peter goes on to examine some later "scattered notes and letters" about Sri Aurobindo's sadhana. These notes focus on the supramentalizing of the overmind. Peter sums up this section saying that "This supramentalizing of the overmind would be the keynote of Sri Aurobindo's sadhana after 1927." (p. 351) In addition to these more “covert” aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual life, Peter also mentions that he was engaged in inner activities that produced results in the outer world:
He never spoke at length of what his inner action consisted of, but he occasionally remarked in letters that he used his spiritual force to produce tangible results in the world. When the persons affected were known individuals, they could sometimes vouch for the outcome, as when sick disciples reported that they were cured after he “sent his force” to help them. But Sri Aurobindo believed that his force was “not limited to the Ashram and its conditions”; it also could be used to bring about “change in the [wider] human world.” He never claimed to have brought about specific terrestrial effects, but he asserted more than once that he was doing his sadhana not for himself but for the earth consciousness. This obliged him to come down from higher levels of experience to work on “the physical,” that is, the physical nature in himself and the world at large. (p. 363)
Somewhat later in the text, supporting his earlier characterization of Sri Aurobindo’s sadhana after 1927 as being concentrated on the supramentalization of the overmind, Peter quotes a letter dictated by Sri Aurobindo in July 1947, "his last known utterance on the state of his sadhana":
My present effort is not to stand up on a high and distant Supermind level and change the world from there, but to bring something of it down here and to stand on that and act by that; but at the present stage the progressive supramentalization of the Overmind is the first immediate preoccupation and a second is the lightening of the heavy resistance of the Inconscient and the support it gives to human ignorance which is always the main obstacle in any attempt to change the world or even to change oneself. (p. 399)
In addition to the numerous references to The Record of Yoga and to Sri Aurobindo’s other letters and comments on his sadhana and spiritual experiences, Peter quotes some of Sri Aurobindo’s poetry as they bear on his inner life:
Sri Aurobindo also took up established forms, using them to express his inner experiences with a vividness and immediacy that has few precedents in mystical writing. These lines are from a sonnet called “Transformation”:
My breath runs in a subtle rhythmic stream;
It fills my members with a might divine:
I have drunk the Infinite like a giant’s wine.
Time is my drama or my pageant dream.
Now are my illumined cells joy’s flaming scheme
And changed my thrilled and branching nerves to fine
Channels of rapture opal and hyaline
For the influx of the Unknown and the Supreme. (p. 370) …
Some lines he jotted down in September 1938 suggest more clearly than pages of The Life Divine what it might be like to view the world from the perspective of the cosmic consciousness:
I look across the world and no horizon walls my gaze;
I see Paris and Tokio and New York,
I see the bombs bursting on Barcelona and on Canton streets.
Man’s numberless misdeeds and rare good deeds take place within my single self.
I am the beast he slays, the bird he feeds and saves.
The thoughts of unknown minds exalt me their thrill,
I carry the sorrow of millions in my lonely breast. (pp. 380–381)
In addition to Sri Aurobindo’s own descriptions of his inner experiences, Peter refers to other people’s perceptions and experiences of his spiritual status. For example, he quotes Rabindranath Tagore’s famous statement about Sri Aurobindo after his visit (see p. 360). In wrapping up the book, Peter includes this assessment of an American visitor coming to the Ashram for the first time for the last darshan of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in November 1950:
As I stepped into a radius of about four feet, there was the sensation of moving into some kind of a force field. Intuitively I knew it was the force of Love, but not what ordinary humans usually mean by the term. These two were “geared straight up”’ they were not paying attention to me as ordinary parents might have done; yet, this unattachment seemed just the thing that healed. Suddenly, I loved them both, as spiritual “parents.”
Then, all thought ceased, I was perfectly aware of where I was; it was not “hypnotism” as one Stanford friend later suggested. It was simply that during those few minutes, my mind became utterly still. It seemed that I stood there a very long, an uncounted time, for there was no time. Only many years later did I describe this experience as my having experienced the Timeless in Time. When there at the darshan, there was not the least doubt in my mind that I had met two people who had experienced what they claimed. They were Gnostic Beings. They had realized this new consciousness which Sri Aurobindo called the Supramental. (p. 408)
These passages clearly demonstrate that when viewed as a whole the book does not denigrate or undercut Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual greatness or attainments. It extensively uses Sri Aurobindo’s own writings about his inner experiences and realizations as the principle source of evidence. In utilizing The Record of Yoga, it includes extremely rare and exalting experiences, as well as limitations and temporary retrogressions. Sri Aurobindo himself explained that his path of yoga was often characterized by cyclic advances and retrogression, and this is clearly the character shown in the Record. Peter’s inclusion of both aspects is appropriate and balanced. The types of experiences that are described — such as the triple-time vision, telepathy, ananda in all the parts of the being, supramentalization of the Overmind and the bringing down of the supramentalized Overmind into the physical — are exceptionally high and rare. Peter’s treatment of Sri Aurobindo’s inner life and sadhana is extensive and very positive.