The Life Divine – Reading Group, Session #3 [6/14]


Join us for our third meeting exploring Integral philosopher, poet, and yogi Sri Aurobindo’s classic The Life Divine.


The Life Divine, Chapters 6–11 (pps. 47–107)

Previous Conversations

Introductory Session [5/31/2018]
The Life Divine, Session #2 [6/7/2018]

Resources/Referenced Material

Study Guides/Introductory Material
Books References During Recorded Sessions
Audio Recordings Of Life Divine

To Participate

  1. Join the Readers Underground
  2. Review the Overview, Schedule, and Guidelines
  3. Introduce yourself below.

Please note: These meetings will be recorded and shared on and here on the forum. If you expect to join us late, please let us know ahead of time, if possible, so we know to let you in. The main meeting room will be closed after the opening meditation. Latecomers are welcome to hang out in the ‘waiting room’ until a break in the conversation when the host will let them in.

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as of this moment, I am intending to come; however, feeling unsafe around Infinite Conversations in general right now, as I find out how to be both authentic in engagement and whether or not being authentic is valued.


Being authentic is definitely valued, at least by me, but I believe not just me… of course, being authentic can often expose our relative inauthenticity (or shadow or blind spots or ignorance or whatever), so in order to allow for authenticity a certain amount of tolerance of inauthenticity (and other imperfections of human character) needs to be cultivated. Not easy work.


Given that the meeting is closed after the opening, I shall probably not come today even though I have been doing the reading. I have another engagement. I could have dropped in, but I appreciate the structure that prevents this. I look forward tohearing the recording, however.


I think we will open it up at the top of the hour, as we did last time, which seemed to work well when Teri joined us. So if you find yourself disposed and inclined at that time, please know that you are still welcome to join us @Geoffreyjen_Edwards.

As a host (not sure if others see or hear this) I get a notification when someone enters the ‘waiting room’. It seems to provide that ‘membrane’ function, without rigidly excluding, which I appreciate.

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Uh-oh, the numbers are dwindling for tonight, and I’m about to add my own complications here too. I’ll start with a couple of updates about my experience of reading first:

So, I was better aligned (my lived inquiries were mediated and spoken through/by/as the text) as I dove into Chapter VII. (I take such alignment as a good sign of my ability to do a reading along with others in the collective field, and it also means I will be able to trustingly welcome the shifts that come with it.) So, all of that means this will probably get easier for me. I am still experiencing an odd quality while reading. I can now cognize entire chunks–like a full paragraph. And, with relative ease/rapidity (though certainly not with full richness). I find the reading is a bit recursive… my eyes scan forward, my mind reaches back for meaning, and then to the end of the paragraph and then back to the present sentence. There’s a stretching and contracting feeling to this. There is also a vortex sensation that I perceive both visually and perceptually hovering inside, above, and within the text. It doesn’t feel unwelcome. It feels centered and centering, I suppose. It also feels nonlinear–and in a way that I am less accustomed too in reading other nonlinear theory texts or transmission documents–a layering of the within within the within maybe (which might explain some of my initial difficulties coming into the flow of the lines).

However, even though I believe in supplying extra discipline to take part in a practice sangha and looked forward to this call all afternoon, I am now a bit too fatigued to be much of a presence on the call tonight. So, my plan is to finish tonight’s reading and tune in for the recording. I will share some of my favorite moments here instead, though, and I hope that you all are willing to let the field/container shift and expand and contract from week to week as our life rhythms find their way into the heart of the text as well (if that way of saying things resonates for others–I am speaking from my own experience here primarily). I love that this community is a place in which containers are a shared experience, a commonality, and a thing we maintain together and recognize at work (in my limited experiences so far). (And, my life is enacting some of the larger field tensions it would seem as well.) I hope sharing the implicit so directly doesn’t seem too profane. I won’t pretend to have more experience of practice than I do (because I can feel the practiced experience in others in this group), but I will also presence where I am and the intricacies inherent in each moment… so that these may be heard, felt, and allowed to express their subconscient wisdom/perplexity.

Reading along with Chris Bache in his book on The Living Classroom, I love how he describes the ways a teacher can tell when the classroom field of consciousness has gotten too heated with transformation and use that day to modulate with less intense questions or activities.

From Chapter VII, I found this striking and resonant:
“The redemption comes by the recovery of the universal in the individual and of the spiritual term in the physical consciousness” (51). This resonates with some of what I’ve been exploring about myth lately–which according to Craig Chalquist (echoing Jung, Joseph Campbell, and others) is where the universal and particular meet.

“Transcendence transfigures; it does not reconcile, but rather transmutes opposites into something surpassing them that effaces their oppositions” (52).

This line reminds me of what I discussed with @Geoffreyjen_Edwards this week: “evil a circling of the good around its own perfection” (52).

Re: the disorders and incapacities on page 53: I think this is the fear/some of the complexities I expressed in my post from last week about rightness of fit with Aurobindo’s work for me right now.

He is describing the felt sense (Gendlin) at the bottom of page 57, I think! (And, not just that.): “the essence of all sensation and emotion is the play of a universal and self-existent delight in being, the essence of all thought and perception is the radiation of a universal and all-pervading truth, the essence of all activity is the progression of a universal and self-effecting good”

“Thus we return to the … vanity of all effort after perfection in the life of the world. A relative good linked always to its opposite is all that here we can seek” paired with “we are able to apply Vedanta to the fulfilment of life and not only to the escape from life” (58). I’ve been exploring the circle and square imagery in Bon Iver’s song from their 2016 experimental album. The song most in focus for me right now is “Circles,”:

“The interplay between spirit and matter as symbolized in the square and compass can also be seen in the division symbol, which could symbolize the Hermetic axiom “as above, so below” this touches on the sympathetic relationship between spiritual and material/macrocosmic and microcosmic planes. Moreover, the stylized points on the division symbol may refer to the Hebrew letter " *Yod”" (one interpretation for the album’s imagery and this song in particular can be found here and a second part here)

–not that I expect anyone to follow me into this particular Logos. :wink:

What has seemed to happen in the last week after starting the first few chapters of this book is that a tradition that I had walked away from and felt closed off from (which had mediated the spiritual and divine to me) has opened up again, and I can feel that part of myself emerging anew–and mostly without fear and with traces/residue of the old shadow that was there, but without recoiling from it in the same way. (Bon Iver seems to be a mediating gateway into this exploration for me right now.)

“but to that which stands behind their appearances” (61). I just had an exchange with a friend earlier about a word choice in a text message that was clearly not “the right one” per the felt sense. It was so not the right one that it brought out some very deep feelings in me as a reader–even an anger at what that word was preventing from disclosure. What lie under the “wrong word” was a series of closures and emotions and dissociations–all our stuff, right? The neuroses of the world soul that Sri Aurobindo was describing. And, I invited him to lean into the behindness and substitute the “implying” (Gendlin again), which is represented this way: (…). So, the tussle with that particular demon may be the cause of my current fatigue, but I will be off for some self care now and more attending of the implicit. Gendlin also has the tool of “Crossing and Dipping” which works with the behindness as well:

“Let me begin with a familiar story: Suppose you have an oddly gnawing feeling. Then you realize - oh, it’s that you forgot something – it’s now Monday afternoon – what was it? You don’t know, and yet it is there , in that gnawing body-tension. You think of many things you ought to have done today, but no; none of them are “it.” How do you know that none of these is what you forgot? The gnawing knows. It won’t release. You burrow into this gnawing. Then suddenly – you remember: Yes, someone was waiting for you for lunch. Too late now! This might make you quite tense. But what about the gnawing? That particular tension has eased. The easing is the easing of that gnawing . Its easing is how you know that you have remembered. Remembering is something experienced, and the term “remembered” is used in direct reference to experience.”

I will leave the rest up to Gendlin to explain. I plan to tune in to the recording. Best wishes for the call tonight.


I missed the window to start due to a family emergency. I will catch ya’ll another time. Enjoying the reading very much.

hang a second, will let you in

Awe and wonder. It’s like this-


Jason Jorjani talks about his book Atlas and Prometheus. He draws upon Heidegger, Nietzsche and Jeffrey Kripal’s investigations into the para-normal. We are being gifted, Jorjani says, with a new world, by refugees from a future species,who are working with us, but only if we can tolerate it ( it might destroy us) and only if we can steal it from them.

A new myth? Certainly is heroic. I wonder if Donna Haraway, author of Staying with the Trouble, would agree with this vision? She is very suspicious of what she calls “prick tales”. She wants to move beyond the Hero’s Myth, into something closer to Gaia.

I believe Sri Aurobindo and The Mother were negotiating with these Trickster forces, too, in their own troubled times. Fasten your seat belts.


I previously made the passing statement that Aurobindo took a vow of silence for 24 years. This is not true. He did decide to lead a life of seclusion for about the same length of time.

Below are some of Aurobindo’s thoughts on mauna (silence or not speaking) and maunavrata (a vow of silence)…he is essentially speaking against taking a prolonged maunavrata and instead seeking out an inner quietude.T he last two statements are quite fitting for our silent meditations and perhaps we could mention these in our next conversation:

"Mauna or Keeping Silence" From Letters on Yoga - IV pp 92-4
  • That is not the way. Absolute silence and looseness of talk are two extremes; neither is good. I have seen many people practising maunavrata, but afterwards they are just as talkative as before. It is self-mastery you must get.

  • Mauna is seldom of much use. After it is over, the speech starts again as on the old lines. It is in speech itself that the speech must change.

  • It is no use giving up talking altogether — the proper course is to speak usefully to people but not to talk for the sake of talking.

  • There is not much utility in complete outer silence or absolute retirement. Unless one is very strong spiritually, these things often end by creating a moribund condition of the consciousness.

  • To remain in silence as much as possible is good for a time. But entire retirement is seldom found to be helpful — the lower movements may remain quiescent owing to want of stimulus from outside, but do not disappear. For that you must be able to get an inner quietude and a mastery over the outer movements which will resist any atmosphere.

  • The difficulty is that the things in the atmosphere come in even if one does not speak with people. There are always mind waves moving about. It is a mastery that has to be developed, beginning with a power of silence, exclusion, non-response.

  • It is really an inner silence that is needed — a something silent within that looks at outer talk and action but feels it as something superficial, not as itself and is quite indifferent and untouched by it. It can bring forces to support speech and action or it can stop them by withdrawal or it can let them go on and observe without being involved or moved.

  • If one keeps the inner silence even when among the friends, that is the real thing; the outer silence need only be relative until the time comes when speech itself is an expression out of the silence.

  • If the peace is very strong within, talking does not cloud it — because this peace is not mental or vital even when it pervades the mind and vital — or else it is a cloud that quickly passes without touching deeply. Usually however such talk [about others] disperses the consciousness and one can lose much. The only disadvantage of not talking is that it isolates too much, if it is absolute, but by not talking these things one loses nothing.

I do like musical references and interpretations of symbols, @hfester and @johnnydavis54. In the introduction to yesterday’s discussion, the traveler “aptly named Auro” used the phrase “cycling trivialities” in reference to the Life Divine chapter


Traveller Auro:

I understand your vision of purpose
But I am such a bundle of contradictions
Cycling trivialities

Day after day
Year after year
I fear I cannot see so clear

Am I far, am I near
How do I live without fear
See harmony so clear and so near?

(Holo-Auro’s response):

…All is in truth Sachchidananda…

At first… we must strive to relate the individual again to the harmony of the totality. There it is necessary for us —otherwise there is no issue from the problem—to realise that the terms in which our present consciousness renders the values of the universe, though practically justified for the purposes of human experience and progress, are not the sole terms in which it is possible to render them and may not be the complete, the right, the ultimate formulas…

It is not very easy for the customary mind of man, always attached to its past and present associations, to conceive of an existence still human, yet radically changed in what are now our fixed circumstances…

By recovering the right relation we may eliminate the ego-determined reactions, reducing them eventually to their true values; and this recovery can be effected by the right participation of the individual in the consciousness of the totality and in the consciousness of the transcendent which the totality represents.

The phrase comes from José González’s tune titled…drumroll :drum:…“Cycling Trivialities”


Too blind to know your best.
Hurrying through the forks without regrets.
Different now, every step feels like a mile.
All the lights seem to flash and pass you by.

So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.

Don’t know which way to turn.
Every trifle becoming big concerns.
All this time you were chasing dreams,
without knowing what you wanted them to mean.

So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.
So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.

Who cares in a hundred years from now.
All the small steps, all your shitty clouds.
Who cares in a hundred years from now.
Who’ll remember all the players.
Who’ll remember all the clowns.

So how’s it gonna be.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.

So what does this really mean.
When it all comes down you’re cycling trivialities.
Cycling trivialities.
Cycling trivialities

Our friend Aurobindo might have a bit more to say about the cycling trivialities, adding to González’s somewhat naturalist’s version of the Nihil.

And, perhaps, if @Flo is willing and feeling it, we could have a classical guitar introduction/meditation in a future session. I am a firm believer that sound speaks clearer than spoken language :guitar:

Looking forward to the next conversation. It’s been an absolutely Delightful experience


And @johnnydavis54…thanks for the reference to Alexander Pope. I read Rape of the Lock last night (which, yes, does seem to be a style I am channeling, though without a depth of knowledge as Pope demonstrates…I hardly understood a full line!) and some biographical information…he and a group of authors, including Jonathan Swift, began the Scriblerus Club which " began as an effort to satirize the abuses of learning wherever they might be found, which led to The Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus" … of which " each chapter of the novel satirises a different fad or fashion of the period, mocking modern culture for its blind adherence both to new trends and outdated beliefs." (sounds similar to the group writing project that I feel we could attempt, though with less satirical style).

I did not intend to mock the spiritual trends of Aurobindo’s readers and followers and disciples with my introduction yesterday, though I do feel that it is best to “extract” the bits that work best for the individual and question anything that calls itself the religion.


Thanks for the note, Heather. This line from your post^^ leaped out for me; feels like it has poetic potential. :slight_smile:

And I think it’s cool that we can participate synchronously and asynchronously, in shared (virtual) space as well as in our own (personal) surrounds, and can appreciate the nuances and folds of our complexly interwoven fields. Thanks for makining some of the implicit explicit, and for perhaps bringing together some of the profane and the divine.

I am feeling something very similar, actually—not with respect to Aurobindo’s lineage or even the integral idea generally, but with respect to a sort of open relationship with (for lack of a better term…of course) Ultimate Reality (or Sachchidananda, as Aurobindo, via the Vedas, calls it). Somehow I seem to have fallen into some kind of denial (or rejection or refusal) of the absolute/immanent, evolving/revolving being/becoming of everything with myself and ourselves included, and have gotten wrapped up in countless conceptual distinctions, inter/personal tensions, and even the trappings of my own poetics.

So this is getting really interesting, as it actually feels that reading to the text and doing these sessions is loosening up some things in my psyche. In a way, too, this feels like a completion of what Gebser opened up through recounting the mutations of consciousness through archaic, magic, mythic, and mental structures into the integral. But whereas Gebser indicates how we might discern its arrival especially in cultural terms, Aurobindo really gives it to us full blown. That’s my (very tentative, even minor) experience so far. Thanks for sharing your own.

Thanks also to you, Johnny, and Doug for the (shakti) music! Myself, I’ve been listening to a lot of ALICE COLTRANE lately in relation to the THE LIFE DIVINE. She was as amazing as John, in her own way, imo.


Pope’s friend, Jonathan Swift, has a similar style. The following poem could be a misogynist joke or a carefully crafted social critique or a little of both. The verbal dexterity is stunning and sometimes it become a duty to speak one’s mind as much as we might prefer silence. Pope and Swift were considered by their contemporaries to be quite suspicious. And for good reason! They were masters at playing with double binds. I look forward to your future performances, Doug.

The Lady’s

Dressing Room

By Jonathan Swift

Five hours, (and who can do it less in?)

By haughty Celia spent in dressing;

The goddess from her chamber issues,

Arrayed in lace, brocades and tissues.

     Strephon, who found the room was void,

And Betty otherwise employed,

Stole in, and took a strict survey,

Of all the litter as it lay;

Whereof, to make the matter clear,

An inventory follows here.

     And first a dirty smock appeared,

Beneath the armpits well besmeared.

Strephon, the rogue, displayed it wide,

And turned it round on every side.

On such a point few words are best,

And Strephon bids us guess the rest,

But swears how damnably the men lie,

In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.

Now listen while he next produces

The various combs for various uses,

Filled up with dirt so closely fixt,

No brush could force a way betwixt.

A paste of composition rare,

Sweat, dandruff, powder, lead and hair;

A forehead cloth with oil upon’t

To smooth the wrinkles on her front;

Here alum flower to stop the steams,

Exhaled from sour unsavory streams,

There night-gloves made of Tripsy’s hide,

Bequeathed by Tripsy when she died,

With puppy water, beauty’s help

Distilled from Tripsy’s darling whelp;

Here gallypots and vials placed,

Some filled with washes, some with paste,

Some with pomatum, paints and slops,

And ointments good for scabby chops.

Hard by a filthy basin stands,

Fouled with the scouring of her hands;

The basin takes whatever comes

The scrapings of her teeth and gums,

A nasty compound of all hues,

For here she spits, and here she spews.

But oh! it turned poor Strephon’s bowels,

When he beheld and smelled the towels,

Begummed, bemattered, and beslimed

With dirt, and sweat, and earwax grimed.

No object Strephon’s eye escapes,

Here petticoats in frowzy heaps;

Nor be the handkerchiefs forgot

All varnished o’er with snuff and snot.

The stockings why should I expose,

Stained with the marks of stinking toes;

Or greasy coifs and pinners reeking,

Which Celia slept at least a week in?

A pair of tweezers next he found

To pluck her brows in arches round,

Or hairs that sink the forehead low,

Or on her chin like bristles grow.

     The virtues we must not let pass,

Of Celia’s magnifying glass.

When frightened Strephon cast his eye on’t

It showed visage of a giant.

A glass that can to sight disclose,

The smallest worm in Celia’s nose,

And faithfully direct her nail

To squeeze it out from head to tail;

For catch it nicely by the head,

It must come out alive or dead.

     Why Strephon will you tell the rest?

And must you needs describe the chest?

That careless wench! no creature warn her

To move it out from yonder corner;

But leave it standing full in sight

For you to exercise your spite.

In vain the workman showed his wit

With rings and hinges counterfeit

To make it seem in this disguise

A cabinet to vulgar eyes;

For Strephon ventured to look in,

Resolved to go through thick and thin;

He lifts the lid, there needs no more,

He smelled it all the time before.

As from within Pandora’s box,

When Epimetheus op’d the locks,

A sudden universal crew

Of human evils upwards flew;

He still was comforted to find

That Hope at last remained behind;

So Strephon lifting up the lid,

To view what in the chest was hid.

The vapors flew from out the vent,

But Strephon cautious never meant

The bottom of the pan to grope,

And foul his hands in search of Hope.

O never may such vile machine

Be once in Celia’s chamber seen!

O may she better learn to keep

Those “secrets of the hoary deep!”

     As mutton cutlets, prime of meat,

Which though with art you salt and beat

As laws of cookery require,

And toast them at the clearest fire;

If from adown the hopeful chops

The fat upon a cinder drops,

To stinking smoke it turns the flame

Pois’ning the flesh from whence it came,

And up exhales a greasy stench,

For which you curse the careless wench;

So things, which must not be expressed,

When plumped into the reeking chest,

Send up an excremental smell

To taint the parts from whence they fell.

The petticoats and gown perfume,

Which waft a stink round every room.

Thus finishing his grand survey,

Disgusted Strephon stole away

Repeating in his amorous fits,

Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!

     But Vengeance, goddess never sleeping

Soon punished Strephon for his peeping;

His foul imagination links

Each Dame he sees with all her stinks:

And, if unsavory odors fly,

Conceives a lady standing by:

All women his description fits,

And both ideas jump like wits:

But vicious fancy coupled fast,

And still appearing in contrast.

I pity wretched Strephon blind

To all the charms of female kind;

Should I the queen of love refuse,

Because she rose from stinking ooze?

To him that looks behind the scene,

Satira’s but some pocky queen.

When Celia in her glory shows,

If Strephon would but stop his nose

(Who now so impiously blasphemes

Her ointments, daubs, and paints and creams,

Her washes, slops, and every clout,

With which he makes so foul a rout)

He soon would learn to think like me,

And bless his ravished sight to see

Such order from confusion sprung,

Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.


Hi Folks:

What a wonderful… VERY wonderful zooming delight ("D"light!) last night (delightful night).

So many reflections - much gratitude (perhaps synchronistically, Marco, a friend of Jan’s gave her Terry Patten’s “Republic of the Heart,” which I’ve been hearing about from many quarters. I just browsed through the opening, and I see that none other than one “Marco Morelli” evidently brainstormed the ideas for the book with Terry between 2011 and 2015. If you know this Morelli fellow (:>)) - - tell him he did a good job!

John (or do you prefer Johnny?), I wanted to mention something about late Romantic music - I find, if you want to understand the difference between what Sri Aurobindo calls “higher vital emotion” and “psychic emotion” (the “feelings” of the individualized soul) listening to just about any music of Gabriel Faure is one of the best ways to get a sense of this. Listen to his requiem, and just pay attention to what is evoked in you - you may find at times a beautiful melody that is just a bit too saccharine - you can almost imagine old Gabe at his piano, hitting upon a sumptuous melody, and thinking, “Oh, I’ve just got draw this out as much as possible” (sorry to make Faure sound like an uncouth American, but for those more refined than I am, you can translate this to more poetic language). At other times, something takes over and the notes of the soul soar forth.

Lauren, I found a long passage from an essay by Sri Aurobindo on “The Divine Body,” that goes into some details on the relationship of the physical organs to the subtle energies associate with them (which are, actually their source - Krishna Prem, many years ago, expressed the reversal of our customary “External” orientation by saying, "In fact, it is wrong to say that Apollo is a myth about the sun; a more accurate way of putting this is, the sun is a myth about Apollo).

I’m going to post it in another comment, as I’m not sure if these comments will take such a long passage… here goes.


Ok, this is from “The Divine Body,” by Sri Aurobindo… a passage imagining (intuiting) what the future body of the new species might be like

But what would be the internal or external form and structure and what the instrumentation of this divine body? The material history of the development of the animal and human body has left it bound to a minutely constructed and elaborated system of organs and a precarious order of their functioning which can easily become a disorder, open to a general or local disorganisation, dependent on an easily disturbed nervous system and commanded by a brain whose vibrations are supposed to be mechanical and automatic and not under our conscious control. According to the materialist all this is a functioning of Matter alone whose fundamental reality is chemical. We have to suppose that the body is constructed by the agency of chemical elements building up atoms and molecules and cells and these again are the agents and only conductors at the basis of a complicated physical structure and instrumentation which is the sole mechanical cause of all our actions, thoughts, feelings, the soul a fiction and mind and life only a material and mechanical manifestation and appearance of this machine which is worked out and automatically driven with a figment of consciousness in it by the forces inherent in inconscient Matter. If that were the truth it is obvious that any divinisation or divine transformation of the body or of anything else would be nothing but an illusion, an imagination, a senseless and impossible chimera. But even if we suppose a soul, a conscious will at work in this body it could not arrive at a divine transformation if there were no radical change in the bodily instrument itself and in the organisation of its material workings. The transforming agent will be bound and stopped in its work by the physical organism’s unalterable limitations and held up by the unmodified or imperfectly modified original animal in us. The possibility of the disorders, derangements, maladies native to these physical arrangements would still be there and could only be shut out by a constant vigilance or perpetual control obligatory on the corporeal instrument’s spiritual inhabitant and master. This could not be called a truly divine body; for in a divine body an inherent freedom from all these things would be natural and perpetual; this freedom would be a normal and native truth of its being and therefore inevitable and unalterable. A radical transformation of the functioning and, it may well be, of the structure and certainly of the too mechanical and material impulses and driving forces of the bodily system would be imperative.
What agency could we find which we could make the means of this all-important liberation and change? Something there is in us or something has to be developed, perhaps a central and still occult part of our being containing forces whose powers in our actual and present make-up are only a fraction of what could be, but if they became complete and dominant would be truly able to bring about with the help of the light and force of the soul and the supramental truth-consciousness the necessary physical transformation and its consequences. This might be found in the system of Chakras revealed by Tantric knowledge and accepted in the systems of Yoga, conscious centres and sources of all the dynamic powers of our being organising their action through the plexuses and arranged in an ascending series from the lowest physical to the highest mind centre and spiritual centre called the thousand-petalled lotus where ascending Nature, the Serpent Power of the Tantrics, meets the Brahman and is liberated into the Divine Being. These centres are closed or half-closed within us and have to be opened before their full potentiality can be manifested in our physical nature: but once they are opened and completely active, no limit can easily be set to the development of their potencies and the total transformation to be possible.
But what would be the result of the emergence of these forces and their liberated and diviner action on the body itself, what their dynamic connection with it and their transforming operation on the still existing animal nature and its animal impulses and gross material procedure? It might be held that the first necessary change would be the liberation of the mind, the life-force, the subtle physical agencies and the physical consciousness into a freer and a diviner activity, a many-dimensioned and unlimited operation of their consciousness, a large outbreak of higher powers and the sublimation of the bodily consciousness itself, of its instrumentation, capacity, capability for the manifestation of the soul in the world of Matter. The subtle senses now concealed in us might come forward into a free action and the material senses themselves become means or channels for the vision of what is now invisible to us or the discovery of things surrounding us but at present unseizable and held back from our knowledge. A firm check might be put on the impulses of the animal nature or they might be purified and subtilised so as to become assets and not liabilities and so transformed as to be parts and processes of a diviner life. But even these changes would still leave a residue of material processes keeping the old way and not amenable to the higher control and, if this could not be changed, the rest of the transformation might itself be checked and incomplete. A total transformation of the body would demand a sufficient change of the most material part of the organism, its constitution, its processes and its set-up of nature.
Again, it might be thought that a full control would be sufficient, a knowledge and a vision of this organism and its unseen action and an effective control determining its operations according to the conscious will; this possibility has been affirmed as something already achieved and a part of the development of the inner powers in some. The cessation of the breathing while still the life of the body remained stable, the hermetic sealing up at will not only of the breath but of all the vital manifestations for long periods, the stoppage of the heart similarly at will while thought and speech and other mental workings continued unabated, these and other phenomena of the power of the will over the body are known and well-attested examples of this kind of mastery. But these are occasional or sporadic successes and do not amount to transformation; a total control is necessary and an established and customary and, indeed, a natural mastery. Even with that achieved something more fundamental might have to be demanded for the complete liberation and change into a divine body.
Again, it might be urged that the organic structure of the body no less than its basic outer form would have to be retained as a necessary material foundation for the retention of the earth-nature, the connection of the divine life with the life of earth and a continuance of the evolutionary process so as to prevent a breaking upward out of and away from it into a state of being which would properly belong to a higher plane and not to a terrestrial divine fulfilment. The prolonged existence of the animal itself in our nature, if sufficiently transformed to be an instrument of manifestation and not an obstacle, would be necessary to preserve the continuity, the evolutionary total; it would be needed as the living vehicle, vāhana, of the emergent god in the material world where he would have to act and achieve the works and wonders of the new life. It is certain that a form of body making this connection and a bodily action containing the earth-dynamism and its fundamental activities must be there, but the connection should not be a bond or a confining limitation or a contradiction of the totality of the change. The maintenance of the present organism without any transformation of it would not but act as such a bond and confinement within the old nature. There would be a material base but it would be of the earth earthy, an old and not a new earth with a diviner psychological structure; for with that structure the old system would be out of harmony and it would be unable to serve its further evolution or even to uphold it as a base in Matter. It would bind part of the being, a lower part to an untransformed humanity and unchanged animal functioning and prevent its liberation into the superhumanity of the supramental nature. A change is then necessary here too, a necessary part of the total bodily transformation, which would divinise the whole man, at least in the ultimate result, and not leave his evolution incomplete.
This aim, it might be said, would be sufficiently served if the instrumentation of the centres and their forces reigned over all the activities of the nature with an entire domination of the body and made it both in its structural form and its organic workings a free channel and means of communication and a plastic instrument of cognition and dynamic action for all that they had to do in the material life, in the world of Matter. There would have to be a change in the operative processes of the material organs themselves and, it may well be, in their very constitution and their importance; they could not be allowed to impose their limitations imperatively on the new physical life. To begin with, they might become more clearly outer ends of the channels of communication and action, more serviceable for the psychological purposes of the inhabitant, less blindly material in their responses, more conscious of the act and aim of the inner movements and powers which use them and which they are wrongly supposed by the material man in us to generate and to use. The brain would be a channel of communication of the form of the thoughts and a battery of their insistence on the body and the outside world where they could then become effective directly, communicating themselves without physical means from mind to mind, producing with a similar directness effects on the thoughts, actions and lives of others or even upon material things. The heart would equally be a direct communicant and medium of interchange for the feelings and emotions thrown outward upon the world by the forces of the psychic centre. Heart could reply directly to heart, the life-force come to the help of other lives and answer their call in spite of strangeness and distance, many beings without any external communication thrill with the message and meet in the secret light from one divine centre. The will might control the organs that deal with food, safeguard automatically the health, eliminate greed and desire, substitute subtler processes or draw in strength and substance from the universal life-force so that the body could maintain for a long time its own strength and substance without loss or waste, remaining thus with no need of sustenance by material aliments, and yet continue a strenuous action with no fatigue or pause for sleep or repose. The soul’s will or the mind’s could act from higher sources upon the sex centre and the sex organs so as to check firmly or even banish the grosser sexual impulse or stimulus and instead of serving an animal excitation or crude drive or desire turn their use to the storing, production and direction towards brain and heart and life-force of the essential energy, ojas, of which this region is the factory so as to support the works of the mind and soul and spirit and the higher life-powers and limit the expenditure of the energy on lower things. The soul, the psychic being, could more easily fill all with the light and turn the very matter of the body to higher uses for its own greater purpose.
This would be a first potent change, but not by any means all that is possible or desirable. For it may well be that the evolutionary urge would proceed to a change of the organs themselves in their material working and use and diminish greatly the need of their instrumentation and even of their existence. The centres in the subtle body, sūkṣma śarīra, of which one would become conscious and aware of all going on in it, would pour their energies into material nerve and plexus and tissue and radiate them through the whole material body; all the physical life and its necessary activities in this new existence could be maintained and operated by these higher agencies in a freer and ampler way and by a less burdensome and restricting method. This might go so far that these organs might cease to be indispensable and even be felt as too obstructive: the central force might use them less and less and finally throw aside their use altogether. If that happened they might waste by atrophy, be reduced to an insignificant minimum or even disappear. The central force might substitute for them subtle organs of a very different character or, if anything material was needed, instruments that would be forms of dynamism or plastic transmitters rather than what we know as organs.

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Ok, finally for today (did I talk too much last night? I was so enjoying the long silences of the previous conversation that Jan and I watched - anyway, the Silence seemed to continue and pervade even as role spoke, so hopefully, it was ok).

I don’t know your name, but you had the screen name “Kermit” and spoke of Dan Siegel. So I’ll tell you our story of our encounter with his work.

Jan and I finished our book on Sri Aurobindo’s integral psychology in 2006. For a few years, we taught some live meditation classes, wrote various things online, and a few other odds and ends, while I continued to work part time as a psychologist (mostly at the time doing disability evaluations).

We discovered siegel’s work in 2008, and started to incorporate it - slowly - into our teaching. In 2012, we set up, and it evolved into a whole website based on his work. We have a number of videos on different aspects of the brain, and even one on the “wheel of awareness” (more on that in a moment).

On the positive side, Siegel’s way of presenting the brain is the closest thing I’ve found in modern psychology to the Mother’s writings on education (more on that some other time:>)

We were about to start selling some “breathing videos” online (with simple animations guiding people’s inhalations and exhalations, with a wide variety of images and music) when Jan started saying that even though we had been getting consistently positive feedback about the videos and about our website, we also were perhaps ignoring the many people who said they didn’t quite know where to start.

So we went back to “Square One” and started designing a 12 week e-course on brain training (which we believe now, almost 2 years later, is almost near completion). While doing so, we gradually transitioned entirely away from Dan’s formulations. you might be interested in some of our thinking about this:

  1. Brain localization/phrenological teaching about the brain. Before starting the course, I wrote to a friend of mine who teaches the brain to med school students. I asked him about Dan’s “triune brain” teaching. This idea was considered wrong almost 40 years ago, and I said I’m sure Dan is aware of that, and that he uses it mostly metaphorically so it’s not exactly “incorrect” neurologically. My friend said that the whole idea of focusing on local functions (the amygdala is the fear center; the anterior cingulate cortex is the empathy center, etc etc) has been receding in favor of neural networks, a much more complex, multi-dimensional approach. this immediately made complete sense to me, and also freed us from having to defend the “left brain right brain” language we had been using and which still gives Iain McGilchrist such a hard time.

We’ve only retained two specific anatomical references - the prefrontal cortex (which it turns out, has been universally accepted for more than 125 years as the center for abstract thought, and both analytic and intuitive thinking, and perhaps just as if not more important, for conscious volition, which contrary to Gary Weber and many of the “non dualists”, is a fact) - and the autonomic nervous system. Instead of the “reptilian” and “Mammalian” brains, we speak of instinctive and emotional conditioning, which immediately frees us from the inevitable discovery that the physical correlates have changed as new discoveries about the brain are being made.

We also borrow from psychologist Les Fehmi and speak of narrow (i.e. left brain) and wide (i.e. right brain) attention, and we occasionally borrow from Buddhist teacher and neuroscience professor Culadasa and speak of selective attention (left) and peripheral awareness (right).

  1. We left the “wheel of awareness” behind altogether. Siegel still swears by it and insists that thousands of people have had their lives changed as a result of it (basically - the idea that at the center of the wheel is the calm, peaceful, quiet observer and everything we experience is along the rim of the wheel - very dualistic, among other things). Instead, the entire course is “embedded” in “open heartful awareness,” which is very close to what my friend Loch Kelly refers to as open hearted awareness, or simply awake awareness (i.e. Rigpa). The Mother and Sri Aurobindo have many beautiful passages describing how everyone has moments of being touched by the soul - listening to Mahler, sitting by the sea, caring for a child in distress, etc. Similarly, rather than being far away or transcendent, there is nothing but Rigpa (all is Brahman) and in moments of stillness, deep caring, or even trauma, something often breaks through, and if we’re prepared in some way (even if by nothing more than an evocative description) it may touch us.

Last thing, not about Siegel, but about Marco’s interest in social transformation. We alternate the last 6 weeks of the course between “inner” and “outer” change. The primary idea (though we have a lot of conventional suggestions for transforming one’s community) is that if it is the case that the very essence of human life and its direction is to (a) awaken to open heartful awareness (or whatever you want to call it; and (b) manifest that fully, integrally in your life; then there might be a VERY different way of thinking about how to engage with social transformation. Instead of focusing entirely on the external, and trying to imagine what the best institutions, governance, economy, etc is, let the primary focus be: "what form of institution, governance, economy, etc is most likely to evoke, inspire and sustain open, heartful awareness, (or as Sri Aurobindo might say, awakening and integration) and do the “outer” work from that perspective. With that aspiration growing, as the energy of the Shakti becomes more and more evident, and the guidance becomes progressively clearer, rather than using our ordinary human mind to “figure out” how to survive the coming (present???) catastrophies, our job at that point is simply to open, surrender, become the clearest instruments of the Shakti.


Please forgive me for butting in here, but I wanted to add something to your very reasonable approach to the “brain”. The emphasis on neural networks (while conceptually more difficult, but intuitively more insightful) as opposed to hemispheric differentiation and specialized-centers approaches has made the entire brain discussion more palatable to me. My “breakthrough” came after reading a book Digitale Demenz [Digital Dementia] (about the developmentally hazardous side-effects of digital technologies on children) by Manfred Spitzer (professor at the University of Ulm) and watching a lecture he gave on the subject at another university here in Germany. To get a feel for the brain, if you will, he put up the following slide:


The question he asks at this point is, “What do the three people who own these brains have in commong?” The answer is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them; they lead normal, everyday lives. Two of the three (the two on the right) were discovered by accident when these people were scanned for whatever reason. The one on the far right is from a 40-something male, French civil servant with two children. The one in the middle is a 50-something German truck driver. The one on the right is the brain scan of a 7-year-old girl who, due to a brain infection when she was three-years-old, had her left hemisphere surgically removed, but she survived. The scan is from a follow-up examination four years later. She has no physical or mental debilitation and she is fluent in Turkish and Dutch.

Not only in there much more to “the brain” than meets the eye, there is also a lot more about it that doesn’t (as the pictures illustrate). I just wanted to throw this is as some added evidence for the necessity to rethink how we think about the brain and the part it might (or might not) play in our “search for consciouness” and understanding how we humans tick.


Butting in more than welcome. It’s funny, speaking personally, I’m not all that interested in the brain. But we live in such a thoroughly defiant (hmm, spell check turned “deficient” into “defiant”!) … deficient mental/structure culture, you can say, "If you’re aware of fear, and attend to it calmly, without reacting, without trying to control it in any way, this simple act of attention can powerfully transform the fear,” and people kind of yawn and say, “oh, yes, well, that’s interesting.”

Then you say, “If you activate your prefrontal cortex when you’re aware of a feeling of fear associated with the lower subcortical regions of the brain, you can actually change the neural pathways associated with fear and bring about “real” physiological changes, considerably reducing the fear,” people exclaim, “Why, that’s incredible, PLEASE tell me more!!” - and you’ve actually said the same thing, simply putting it in brain language (though of course, the phenomenological language is infinitely richer than the brain language, but that’s way too much to tell folks who are intoxicated by the materialistic view).

I think we mention the autonomic nervous system in the first and maybe second week, and for the rest of the 12 weeks, don’t mention any specific anatomical locations in the brain except the “PFC” (prefrontal cortex).

It’s like a friend of mine years ago who was offering therapy and biofeedback. When she added the biofeedback, her clientele went up considerably. But they didn’t really care if they used it. Evidently, just having the machine in the office was enough for them to feel that she was a ‘real” doctor!” Sigh……


Brain centrism, like gene centrism, is a bore. The brain is for moving a body around in an environment. There is nothing that interesting in an individual brain or a cluster of neurons. It is a hang over from the Watson and Crick dumb it down era of mentally deficient science. It is powerful because it is so narrow. I hope we can create an ecological civilization that will look back and smile at the naivete of the brain in a vat mentality that dominates the current public discourse.

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