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

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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Bravo, Johnny (by the way, a shoutout to you for a marvelous line some months back: “I loathe Jordan Peterson.” you might enjoy this fellow - who has been writing over the last month, what I think are the best critiques available on Peterson (in an integral light, no less).

I have a suggestion for the next Life Divine conversation, as a way of illuminating how infinitely far Sri Aurobindo’s language is from anything we ordinarily consider “philosophy.” Getting a 'feel" for his yoga psychology can help bring out the rich experiential aspect of his words - I find it makes it easier for the language to resonate throughout my body, my life-energy, heart, mind and soul (Ok, I’ve been resisting critiques of Wilber, but I’ll add my partially tongue-in-cheek suggestion - a good way to introduce yourself to Sri Aurobindo? Read virtually anything Wilber has written on him and assume the opposite. I don’t quite mean this, but it’s pretty close. It takes some talent to so thoroughly misread Sri Aurobindo as Wilber does).

About 21 years ago, I started an online Integral Psychology forum (this was before Wilber and appropriated a phrase coined in 1935 by a disciple of Sri Aurobindo). One of the first things we decided was to see if we really understood Sri Aurobindo’s psychological terminology. We chose “physical mind” to start (no, it has nothing to do with “con op”)

In the late 1920s, Sri Aurobindo developed a lot of the phrases he uses (vital mind, mental physical, etc) in later versions of the Life Divine and Synthesis of Yoga. He explicitly said that a phrase like the “physical mind” was meant to show that it’s impossible to understand the surface nature (jagrat, “waking state” - which, by the way, has NOTHING to do with the modern meaning of states of consciousness - is that enough to void everything Wilber has ever written?? - should I add that among 95% of psychologists, the whole idea of stages of development is over!!?).

So what does physical mean? If you can find a coherent definition in the entire philosophy of science, let me know. Look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Physical is what physicists study” is essentially their conclusion.

The “physical” consciousness (this is almost universal in Asian, African, European, Oceanic contemplative traditions, only the terminology is Sri Aurobindo’s - very little completely unique in his language) is that associated with the entire physical universe. There is a universal physical consciousness and individualized (non-individualized at first in what we call “matter” - which is how our senses perceive the Brahman; and slowly becoming more individualized over the course of terrestrial evolution, with self-awareness emerging in dolphins, chimps and maybe even African Grays). (there’s 2 good quadrants for you - inner individual and inner universal).

The “mental” consciousness is the instrument of Vijnana, the Mahat or Logos, the consciousness which completely integrates the finite and the infinite, the mind being the means for the Vijnana or Supramental consciousness to create differentiations in the various universes (physical, vital, mental, and many beyond).

The physical consciousness as it presently functions in humans is very tamasic, inert, dull - as befits a consciousness that began in the very depths of avidya, ignorance.

So the physical mind is the mind (it could be preoperational, concrete operational, formal operation and if anyone believes there are actually differentiated stages beyond formal, I don’t - it’s a complete confusion of what Consciousness is and how it functions - whatever is beyond) swamped, flooded, overrun with the tamasic, dull quality of the physical consciousness.

So that’s a start. Crucial warning - there is no “mind” or “physical” or “vital” or “physical mind” or “supramental” or “Brahman” or “non-dual” or anything else our mind so loves to turn into conceptual objects.

I like to think of Sri Aurobindo’s writings in general, and his yoga psychology in particular (you’ll find most of it in his “letters on yoga” collections) much much less as "ideas’ or "concepts’ or (goddess forbid!!!) “systems” - but as a music lead sheet. he gives you the chords and the melody and lyrics, and you know what? That’s just a jumping off point. You know you’re going to change the chords, with substitutions, added 7ths, 9ths, flat 11ths and 13ths, you’re definitely going to invert, reverse, dance around variously and infinitely change the melody, but somehow you still know whatever you’re playing is related to the original melody and chords.

And the great thing about this yoga psychology improvisation is every time you play, it’s completely different yet “the same.”

What I find is over the years, you just get a feel, in your bones, what things like “psychic being” and “physical mind” and all the rest are, and instead of relying on “definitions,” you find ways to convey it through rich phenomenological descriptions.

really, the best way to “explain” it is like the theological Gabriel Marcel did for the logical positivists who invited him to speak on the topic of “Grace.”

They kept asking him to please be more clear, to “define your terms.” He kept trying to modify what he was saying in order to convey what he intended, but finally he said, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I can speak any more clearly. But if I had a piano here, I could play it for you.”


I’m relieved to hear that, Don, as I have reflected upon the cherished psychiatric pathological categories like masturbation, female hysteria, homosexuality are no longer taken seriously. When I was twelve years old I figured out on my own experience of the human condition, that they got it wrong.

Of course, most people, no doubt, were not bogged down by such distortions outside of academia.
We have never been disenchanted, except in certain walled off areas in the ivory tower.

“ ‘Your your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.” Francis Crick

One of the biggest dumb ass statements ever made. It would be howlingly funny if so many haven’t been totally seduced into the thinking the experts know something outside their narrow expertise. Just because he got a Nobel doesn’t mean he was a well rounded person! We are turned, by such rhetoric, into Nihilism, Inc.

I am glad that presuppositions of Wilber World are called into question. I saw a lot of harm done with it. I also appreciate that I learned a lot from having gone through it. I wonder what can be salvaged?

There’s an interesting mix of professionals and amateurs here
( an amateur does if for love) so I welcome the mix of responses that emerge as we study this text together.

There is an unheard music you can sense in this great score, as you read the notes and tap your foot and hum along and just imagine what it could sound like.


Hi Folks:

Thought this might be helpful:

(by the way, note that, if you look over the posts on the above website, you’ll see an overview of Gebser by a fellow you may have heard of, one “Ed Mahood” Jr.!" I imagine someone here may know the fellow - good writer!:>))))


Ed is a clever guy, hard to keep up with him. Thanks, Don, for pointing that out.

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Musical notation resounding in all directions…harmonious!

Today reading, in bits and pieces, in between coos and cries from kids, “Integral Yoga Psychology and the Quartet of Perfection,” Chapter One of Banerji’s Seven Quartets of Becoming (Seven Quartets a fitting “musical” translation of sapta catustaya). If one considers Aurobindo’s Letters of Yoga, Synthesis of Yoga, and Record of Yoga (et. al.) as the musical lead sheet, Banerji has essentially given us a densely condensed modern translation of Aurobindo’s symphonies. I’m diggin’ it. I loved reading and “becoming” a part of Synthesis of Yoga a few years ago, yet it is refreshing to refresh one’s memory without needing to read 1000 pages again. And, on a final note, Banerji’s “guest musicians” (Heidegger, Deleuze, Nietzsche and Leibniz) come together like the riveting ragtag renditions of the Silk Road Ensemble (Aurobindo as Yo Yo Ma, of course). Wouldn’t mind discussing this chapter in a future cafe session, or perhaps it will segue one day into a _Life Divine _ discussion…

(…PS: I hope we all consider ourselves amateurs here! Or does a professional have a better “systematization” of love, or maybe meraki?)


As music lovers we can get in the zone with Aurobindo through Banerji. I’m glad you mentioned the Quartets. I have a vague memory of our discussion of that chapter so I hope it will get posted soon to review it. I think there was some interesting suggestions made, like a melody coming from a far away room…

Is it possible to get a sentence or two clarifying a bit more precisely what this means? I have the feeling I’m missing something. Like I said, I’m not much of a psychologist and this seems to have a note of confusion in it: what is really over: stages or development or is it the whole idea? Is there a meaning to the phrase “stages of development” that makes it a professional, technical term which an unschooled layperson, like me, doesn’t get and is it that which is over?

Please don’t think that I’m just being my general curmudgeony self, but sometimes thinking in terms of stages (or structures (e.g., Gebser) or steps (e.g., Young) or phases perhaps) helps one make sense of a phenomenon. For (a very banal) example, I find it helpful (as I have a 1-year-old and 3-year-old in the house at the moment) to talk about babies, toddlers, and young children … and by extension say (when my other grandchild is mentioned) pre- or post-pubescent youth and adults and elders, and one can easily see these notions in terms of some kind of development. There are both quantitative and qualitative aspects of them that make them different from one another and that make it reasonable to think of them in such terms. You know what I’m getting at?


Hi Ed:

Wow, a sentence or two!:>)). Maybe I can conjure up an Aurobindonian 7 line, multi-clause sentence…

I think Ellen Langer, in Charles Alexanders’ “Higher Stages of Deveopment,” captured it well: What could a ‘developmental stage’ mean, if it’s useed to simultaneously describe what happens in the shift from a pre-verbal infant to a fully verbal toddler, and the shift from a “conventional” 10-11 year old pre-teen to the “individual” ‘pre-frontal-cortex/mature 25 year old adult?

how’s that??

(And as far as “professional,” whatever I’ve learned about psychology that is valuable, I think, has come about in spite of my grad school training).

Can I be a bit more specific now? My dissertation advisor, Gary Kose, did his doctorate on Piaget. He acknowledged to me that by the early 90s, almost all psychologists had switched from the idea of discrete stages to gradual increase in complexity. He also had particular misgivings about the attempts to uncover “discrete” stages past formal operations (which means, essentially, everything in Wilber’s 2nd tier and 3rd tier).

I first came across developmental stages in my teens, and I couldn’t at the time put my finger on what seemed confused about them. I discovered the Vedantic terms “buddhi” and “manas” in 1972, and that started to put things together. I think there is definitely a quantum leap from one to the other, as we share the manas (sense mind, or emotional mind) with animals -when a squirrel hides and is later able to find 30,000 nuts, she is using the manas, which does an extraordinary job of “imagining’ the world. The buddhi is responsible for self-awareness, and also brings the hidden “separate” ego to wakefulness, somethign we find hints of in chimps, dolphins and African Gray parrots, but seems only to come into its own when a child is 2 or 3 years old.

It seems to me what Wilber, for example, is detailing, is the increasing complexity of the buddhi, and its progressive freeing from the influnece of the physical and vital consciousness. This is essentially what the Sanskrit terms “tamasic” and “rajasic” refer to, and Sri Aurobindo does, in the Life Divine chapter “Triple Transformation” refer to stages of development, but this is radically different from anything in western psychology, including the various writers that fall under the umbrella of “integral psychology.”

Gebser’s structures, on teh other hand, are an almost perfect description of collective quantum shifts in human history (though i’ve never found teh attempt to apply them to individual psychology - at least, among those who talk about each of us having a recognizable “magic structure,” “mythic structure etc” - useful)

The symbolic stage that Sri Aurobindo describes at the beginning of the Human Cycle was not really differentiated, and I think Gebser’s descriptions of the three pre-mental structures are really excellent elaborations of the brief mention of the symbolic stage that Sri Aurobindo offers. There’s also a profound richness in Gebser’s descriptions that is almost entirley missing in most discussions of integral developmentla psychology.

Oh well, I was going to write a short answer but I’ve blabbed on. Sorry:>). It’s so rare for me to find folks actually interested in this stuff, that it tends to trigger my “hypomanic” side:>))))


As I read the previous letter over, i wonder how much of this sort of thing can be conveyed through writing. It’s SO much easier in dialog; if it’s relevant, maybe I can touch on it in our conversation next week.


Thank you ever so much … especially for the, let us say, extended answer, since it answers a couple of questions that I hadn’t thought of yet, but which would have probably come up anyway.

What I was looking for – I think, or at least it struck me as such – was:

That makes sense to me. Even Gebser struggled to keep the term “stages” out of his opus, and went to great lengths to keep “evolution” far from what he was trying to say. In fact, the thing that most attracted me to Gebser was his notion of ever increasing intensities in a more or less discontinuous way go from one structure to another; that is, supersede (not negate nor discard) what came “before”) to describe the differences between his “structures”, which I think harmonizes well with what you have said here. (BTW, Kelly Welch, whom we discussed in one of our CCafés a while back did try to related Gebser’s structures to brain-wave states, which makes for some interesting cogitation, even if it is not personally or developmentally convincing, and I can live with that.) It was the “stages” which was the core of your original sentence. Thank you again for this.

And picking up on another thought you shared:

Well, I found that interesting because, for me, I have long generalized that to include just about anything I’ve ever learned about just about anything that ever made a difference in my life. I tend to think we learn in spite of school in general, not because of it, but that’s probably just my curmudgeonry showing.

Now, I think it only fair to admit that I’m not much of a Wilber fan, and never really have been. I’m not opposed to what he does – in fact, I think he accomplished a lot – but he never really did it for me in any way. It always struck me that he was missing the “spirit” which, say, Gebser clearly ascribes to Origin. Without whatever that is, you end up with something that often looks like a materialistic-mechanistic amalgam which I find uninspiring if not downright demotivating. When I did think it was perhaps time to give him another chance, there were quadrants and tiers and Lord knows what else that quickly disabused me of the idea that it was worth the effort to wade through it all. When discussions here get too Wilbery, I just follow with polite attention because it means much more to those familiar with him than for me, but who knows what gem of insight might pop out of the back-and-forth of those more in the know. As you say, it’s a lot easier to handle things like this dialogically.

That remark is particularly relevant for me, because it is with just a bit of trepidation that I’m approaching Sri Aurobindo. As you noted, there are many terms which shed light on a lot of the things that we have been discussing in the CCafés and elsewhere on this platform, and all my forays into what we might call Farther-Eastern mentation have always failed due to the sheer volume of technical and other terms that I could neither pronounce nor remember. For this reason, I was especially motivated by the fact that there would be more informed guides – like you – accompanying the current journey; that is, those who have the potential and possibility to keep the wheat sorted from the chaff and the complexity organized enough that .

When I was younger, I was certainly more of a “noter”, a juggler of details (if I could relate to them in some way, not just abstractly, as a funny-looking word on paper), but as I have grown older it has become clearer to me why many older minds drift toward alchemy (whereby I’m as far from an alchemist as you can get … I just appreciate the metaphoric). I’ve become more of a “distiller” these days and am always looking for the essence of whatever it is that is confronting me. So, if it seems at any point that I’m oversimplifying, it could be that I am, but not purposely.

Thanks again for your answer. It was anything but babbling.


much to reflect on later, but this caught my eye:

Ed: I’ve become more of a “distiller” these day

Then you must come to Asheville, which is competing with Austin, TX (and I think Boulder or somewhere else in Colorado?) for “Beer City, USA.”


Reading Sri Aurobindo

There must awake in us a constant indwelling and enveloping nearness, a vivid perception, a close feeling and communion, a concrete sense and contact of a true and infinite Presence always and everywhere.


There must awake in us

a constant indwelling and enveloping nearness








indwelling AND enveloping

a vivid perception…vivid…vivid…vivid…vivid…vivid…VIVID

a close feeling… close.close.close.close feeling.close feeling…

a close feeling AND communion,


a concrete sense and contact

a concrete sense and contact of a true and infinite Presence



true Presence

infinite Presence

true Presence

infinite Presence

true Presenceinfinite Presencetrue Presenceinfinite Presence


and everywhere.


and everywhere.


and everywhere.


and everywhere.


and everywhere.


and everywhere.