The Life Divine – Reading Group, Session #6 [7/5]



The Life Divine, Chapters 21-24 (pps. 210-253)

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ch. 21 to? I have kindle and it doesn’t seem to give me the page numbers…although maybe I am a Kindle-noob and there is a way to do that. i have a paper copy on its way!

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Durwin if you just google “The Life Divine” the first or second link will be a PDF copy. You can’t save it but you can keep it open as a tab on your browser. I keep it open as a tab on my iPad.

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Video and audio from this session are now posted.

In service,


Matteo made an excellent observation at the zoom session last night. He noted that sometimes, when reading Life Divine from the beginning, it is set out in a way that leads one to think that Sri Aurobindo is primarily interested in presenting an intellectual structure, a model with various concepts outlining various aspects of the cosmos.

Book II, in contrast, Matteo noted, is more epistemological (in some respects at least; it is much more than that but that may be a helpful way of distinguishing different ways Sri Aurobindo is speaking to us throughout the book). It is much easier, particularly toward the end of section I of Bk II, to connect the language directly to one’s experience.

A passage came to mind as he was saying that, from Bk II Part II, in the chapter “The Triple Transformation,” which I thought conveyed an experiential sense of some of the themes we are covering in Part I. Here he is talking about the discipline for opening first to the inner Self (the “Self” of mind, life and the body, and more deeply and directly, to the psychic being, with hints of ascending above the ordinary mind to the ‘planes’ of spiritual mind, higher, illumined, intuitive and overmind."

One effective way often used to facilitate this entry into the inner self is the separation of the Purusha, the conscious being, from the Prakriti, the formulated nature. If one stands back from the mind and its activities so that they fall silent at will or go on as a surface movement of which one is the detached and disinterested witness, it becomes possible eventually … to realise one’s inner being as the silent impersonal self, the witness Purusha. This will lead to a spiritual realisation and liberation, but will not necessarily bring about a transformation; for the Purusha, satisfied to be free and himself, may leave the Nature, the Prakriti, to exhaust its accumulated impetus by an unsupported action, a mechanical continuance not renewed and reinforced or vivified and prolonged by his consent, and use this rejection as a means of withdrawing from all nature. The Purusha has to become not only the witness but the knower and source, the master of all the thought and action, and this can only be partially done so long as one remains on the mental level or has still to use the ordinary instrumentation of mind, life and body… The method of detachment from the insistence of all mental and vital and physical claims and calls and impulsions, a concentration in the heart, austerity, self-purification and rejection of the old mind movements and life movements, rejection of the ego of desire, rejection of false needs and false habits, are all useful aids to this difficult passage: but the strongest, most central way is to found all such or other methods on a self-offering and surrender of ourselves and of our parts of nature to the Divine Being, the Ishwara. A strict obedience to the wise and intuitiveleading of a Guide is also normal and necessary for all but a few specially gifted seekers.

As the crust of the outer nature cracks, as the walls of inner separation break down, the inner light gets through, the inner fire burns in the heart, the substance of the nature and the stuff of consciousness refine to a greater subtlety and purity, and the deeper psychic experiences, those which are not solely of an inner mental or inner vital character, become possible in this subtler, purer, finer substance; the soul begins to unveil itself, the psychic personality reaches its full stature. The soul, the psychic entity, then manifests itself as the central being which upholds mind and life and body and supports all the other pow- ers and functions of the Spirit; it takes up its greater function as the guide and ruler of the nature. A guidance, a governance begins from within which exposes every movement to the light of Truth, repels what is false, obscure, opposed to the divine realisation: every region of the being, every nook and corner of it, every movement, formation, direction, inclination of thought, will, emotion, sensation, action, reaction, motive, disposition, propensity, desire, habit of the conscious or subconscious phys- ical, even the most concealed, camouflaged, mute, recondite, is lighted up with the unerring psychic light, their confusions dis- sipated, their tangles disentangled, their obscurities, deceptions, self-deceptions precisely indicated and removed; all is purified, set right, the whole nature harmonised, modulated in the psychic key, put in spiritual order. This process may be rapid or tardy according to the amount of obscurity and resistance still left in the nature, but it goes on unfalteringly so long as it is not complete. As a final result the whole conscious being is made perfectly apt for spiritual experience of every kind, turned to- wards spiritual truth of thought, feeling, sense, action, tuned to the right responses, delivered from the darkness and stub- bornness of the tamasic inertia, the turbidities and turbulences and impurities of the rajasic passion and restless unharmonised kinetism, the enlightened rigidities and sattwic limitations or poised balancements of constructed equilibrium which are the character of the Ignorance.

This is the first result, but the second is a free inflow of all kinds of spiritual experience, experience of the Self, experi- ence of the Ishwara and the Divine Shakti, experience of cosmic consciousness, a direct touch with cosmic forces and with the occult movements of universal Nature, a psychic sympathy and unity and inner communication and interchanges of all kinds with other beings and with Nature, illuminations of the mind by knowledge, illuminations of the heart by love and devotion and spiritual joy and ecstasy, illuminations of the sense and the body by higher experience, illuminations of dynamic action in the truth and largeness of a purified mind and heart and soul, the certitudes of the divine light and guidance, the joy and power of the divine force working in the will and the conduct. These experiences are the result of an opening outward of the inner and inmost being and nature; for then there comes into play the soul’s power of unerring inherent consciousness, its vision, its touch on things which is superior to any mental cognition; there is there, native to the psychic consciousness in its pure working, an immediate sense of the world and its beings, a direct inner contact with them and a direct contact with the Self and with the Divine, — a direct knowledge, a direct sight of Truth and of all truths, a direct penetrating spiritual emotion and feeling, a direct intuition of right will and right action, a power to rule and to create an order of the being not by the gropings of the superficial self, but from within, from the inner truth of self and things and the occult realities of Nature.


An interesting analysis of the breakdown of perspectival consciousness, which may be more relevant to Bk 2 of the LD, but perhaps a good preview:

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Thanks for the reference to The Chrysalis article, @Don_Salmon, it is worth the read, even if a working knowledge of what Gebser is up to might be helpful in really getting his point (to which I’ll return in a moment).

It appears that the starting point for his reflections was an article by Kenan Malik, and that caught my eye as well. I will look for that piece, too, but I wanted to remind everyone on this thread that Malik is a thinker worth thinking about in his own right. Elsewhere, I did something of a review of his Man, Beast and Zombie: What science can and cannot tell us about human nature (Phoenix: London, 2001). It’s not the last word on the subject, but it’s one that provides rich food for thought. But this is just a side note.

On the subject of the article, however, I wanted to note something else: while I appreciate his calling upon Gebser to help elucidate “the current mess we’re in”, there is one aspect of Gebser’s thinking that might be helpful to emphasize more strongly than the author did. I agree that the shift toward a “field view” is part of what needs to happen, if you will, but it is only part of the story … a very important, but not the only, part of the shift to what might be considered “integral”.

Part of the beauty (in my mind) of Gebser’s model is its identification of “efficient” and “deficient” modes of each of the consciousness structures he describes. The exclusivity of Rational consciousness is the deficient mode of the Mental structure. The move from one structure to another in Gebser’s model is by means of Überwinden (overcoming, getting over) and Aufheben (supersession), meaning that previous structures (especially, and particularly, their efficient modes) are not left behind, but rather re-activated to be used in support of whichever new view shall be come dominant (and which most of us like to think is “integral”).

What is more, in regard to the Integral structure of consciousness, Gebser also noted that this may be the first time a mutation went deficient before it went efficient, with all the terrible consequences that implies and to which our author here alludes. Yes, there is an apocalyptic air to it all, but I doubt that most people even suspect that the apocalypse has anything to do with the misused positive connotations of “revelation” which our fundamentalist, evangelical Christian friends, in particular, like to emphasize.

Finally, I think I fundamentally agree that postmodernism’s “deconstruction” looks very Rational (in the Gebserian sense) on the surface, but I’m not convinced that it isn’t at least anticipating what Gebser would call the “deficient Integral”: the complete shattering of meaning and a complete atomized alienation that would be its consequence. For as optimistic as Gebser is (and most of us are) at heart, it all doesn’t have to work out for our best. One of the problems of “free will” (which is a topic many just love to hate – or avoid) is that we humans can “choose” our own undoing, and I think this applies collectively as well as individually.

In my mind there are myriad alternatives, but that’s just me.


Hey Ed - great points all. I particularly agree about the limitations of Scott’s vision of the “efficient” mode of the integral structure - he’s REALLY good at providing details about the deficient rational structure - he sees it everywhere:>))

I’m wondering - i really admire your clarity in talking of Gebser. I imagine, though I don’t recall you saying much about it, that you’ve been reflecting on Gebser’s “integral” while reading LD. If you’re interested, would you be willing to share some reflections on how the Gebserian integral relates to “Vijnana” (I prefer that to “supermind” as it reminds me more vividly that I have no idea what Sri Aurobindo is talking about).

Thanks (either way>)


I’m glad you remind us, Ed, of our previous conversations about trans-humanism and post humanism, which occurred over a year ago. I imagine that it is good that we do a little back tracking from our archive so that we can update ourselves on where this impulse to study Sri Aurobindo came from. And new members to this study circle can have some idea about the many kinds of discourse events, that we are coming from, so that we can better perform some of the heavy lifting this text demands.

And what do we know, now, Mr. Ed, that we didnt know then?

Well, we were in the middle of reading Sloterjdiik, whom we all had mixed feelings about. Was he integral or in the the deficient mental or a little of both? Putting aside questions of style, we did the best we could. You, as I recall, dropped out, in utter disgust with that author. And those of us who persevered were eager to get to Aurobindo. I remained vigilant that that was a preparation for this current work we are now exploring.

So I put these squabbles which frequently flame out, as symptoms that are stressing our very fragile online attention. We need to stay with the trouble. The trouble we are experiencing is our incapacity to get anything into a clear enough focus. I wish we could chunk down and chunk slower.

Without a shared focused attention, and a capacity to hold pluralities, the field will not save us. We must have an active center, ( psychic being) able to ask questions, and pay attention to the answers that we receive from the field. These answers will come from a much deeper level than the questioner has asked the question from…hence the need to pay attention and to take a motif from the current reality so that the leap into the new cosmology will be possible.

“Nothing will come from nothing.” ( King Lear)

The answers we receive can be multi sensory and wierd and multiple species can participate in the communique. We will not easily translate these communiques from the field into current ways of thinking as promoted by Harvard Business School or the World Trade Organization.

I have initiated, with lots of support from my comrades here, the creation of techniques, for dealing with training our attention so that alternate ways of knowing can be invited. These techniques are emerging out of our current third wave of cybernetics, as we observer- participants pool our resources. What we need is some leisure, some clear questions, and a pack of crayons. We already have what we need.

So the post modern turn has taught us much if we pay attention to the legitimate objections that are raised. How do we preserve pluralisms? How do we move beyond Fascism?

These are ongoing concerns. I would suggest that for all of the excesses of that postmodern turn, conditions have been created so that we can better re-orient around emerging patterns.If we are better able to hold these fragments, whirling around us, we can use the mind to touch these fragments and then they are no longer a mess.

Each of us will need a motif or two as we gather courage to take the leap. Take the leap we must and for most of this will not be convenient or appear very efficient. I think our guest this week may have some guidance.

A motif. Yesterday morning, I was startled by the presence of a little wet chick , on my firescape. I was anxious for she looked so feeble and frail but I didn’t try to rescue her. I knew I might fuck things up. By the afternoon, she was jumping around and flapping her wings. In the evening, she had the strength to fly. And she did.

We already have everything we need to take this flight. I prefer a flight to a leap…but you probably have to leap before you fly?


Johnny, what a beautiful note (you’re in the East Village, right? A chick on your fire escape!! I was there from 1974 to 2001 (superintendent at 6th and Ave B 1 1/2 years; the 200 sq ft carriage house apt off the street at 9th between 1st and 2nd 1 1/2 years then our “McMansion” - 734 sq ft - at 145 2nd Ave for 34 years) - I remember corn, tomatoes, pigeons, cats, and many other spritely things on fire escapes but hadn’t heard of chicks before! Makes me nostalgic. And I see the Indian restaurants on 6th street seem to have closed down for the most part…)

Thanks for the background, much appreciated.

This is such a singularly lovely note:

“Without a shared focused attention, and a capacity to hold pluralities, the field will not save us. We must have an active center, ( psychic being) able to ask questions, and pay attention to the answers that we receive from the field. These answers will come from a much deeper level than the questioner has asked the question from…hence the need to pay attention and to take a motif from the current reality so that the leap into the new cosmology will be possible.”


(I hope that oversized mural is still there on the wall, the southeast corner, I think, of 9th and 2nd, where Veselka is, I assume - where we sat and watched the tanks roll by a few days after 9/11 - the mural with the guy who dresses as Santa Claus all year, the inebriated woman who used to shout obscenities around 6:30 AM sunday mornings; the guy who used to drive his motorcycle around the east village with his dog in the side car… and so much more…a few blocks from where I used to walk to what is now called the “Tisch Center” to play for Linda Tarnay’s modern dance classes… a different world…)

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I remember that mural well…I live right around the corner on tenth street. That mural is gone. most of the neighborhood has turned trendy and lost it’s energy. The city has turned into an expensive tourist trap and the ideals of this City (give us your huddled masses yearning to be free…) is pretty much gone with the winds of 9/11. Decades of surveillance and commodification have turned the city that never sleeps into a zone for zombie clones, staring into corporate sponsored glow of their devices. The young people I meet are so hungry for a thriving culture that is no longer present here. Alas…

But I am hopeful we can pay better attention than we did back then to the many warning signals that were all around us. There are plenty of signs of life, however, as my little chick, modeled for me, yesterday. What a powerful intelligence in that little creature…and she is my sister!

James Baldwin asked, " How can you look into the face of a child and say there is no hope?"

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If I knew that, I’d be brilliant, which I’m not. But as you note:

Yes, but since “disgust” is such an ugly word, let’s say I dropped out in “utter frustration”: I couldn’t handle the style because I felt he had little content to offer, but that was just me. I’m glad the rest of you persevered. Aurobindo was on the horizon, that’s for sure, but it’s a very different world from Sloterdijk’s: Peter’s was intellectual; S.A.'s is experiential.

But most of us are coming from very different places, even if we often meet “here” (online, on the InfConv platform, in the CCafé, etc.). I take this to be part of the pluralities of which you speak. And those different places have allowed (forced?) us to develop what I like to think of as different “dialects”; that is, different ways of talking about things, but things that may the same, regardless of the vocabulary and syntax we use to address them. This is what I hear when you say,

Agreed, and you highlight precisely one of those “dialectical variations” I was thinking of: an “active center (psychic being)”, or perhaps “etheric/astral body”, “soul”, “true self”, or any number of other notions that, I think, are pointing to the same “thing”. For our materialist/physicalist friends, it may be more difficult to warm up to the notion, and what I think Sri Aurobindo does particularly well is simply forge on at that point regardless of where any given reader might be coming from themselves. We should not forget that to many, such things/entities/realities simply do not exist. They are illusions, if not delusions, in their minds and just asserting the contrary is not very convincing. Of course, these are not things that one can argue in such a way that another will be convinced of your view.

This is why the back-and-forths we’ve had about Sri Aurobindo’s “argumentation” sort of miss the point. I am convinced that he is speaking from experience, and I believe he is making it very clear (especially now that I’ve started Book II) that these experiences are available to anyone and everyone as well. Whether a given individual is ready, willing, open, or able to garner them is an entirely different matter. What I think I’m seeing with the “die-hards” who keep showing up around here is that they are ready, willing, and otherwise prepared in some way to experience some of this themselves.

Still, there is a certain reservation in the air, or so it seems to me. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just there, and I would be surprised if it weren’t. Yes, thinking is a kind of experience, but it’s an easy kind. Thinking about things really doesn’t make you have any “skin in the game”, so to speak. The experience that Sri Aurobindo (and Gebser, in his own way, if you really want to get what he’s putting forth) is, as you put it, much deeper, and it is this depth that can – and in my experience often does – add a note of trepidation to the entire situation. It’s not a depth that you can just stick your toe in to see how it feels. In certain regards, entering that depth is going down a rabbit hole, and there are some folks – not a few, I would imagine – who inwardly (deeply) feel that they won’t be the same person after taking that step.

It’s like one of the current Facebook memes that I’ve encountered (again) recently: The speaker before the crowd asks, “Who wants change?” and all the hands go up; in the next frame he asks, “Who wants to change?” and all the hands stay down.

As far as I can tell, everyone in our current discussions weren’t part of the crowd in the second frame. Around here, all the hands went up. Our challenge now is to find a common means and mode of communication – a sort of High Language, if you will – that overcomes our particular dialectical idioms so that we can better recognize just how much in common we all have.

But after our Meru CCafés, I would add, with all due deference to the Bard, but everything comes from no-thing.


Heh, heh, heh … sometimes, Don, you’re a really funny guy … and I mean that admiringly and lovingly.

In these parts of cyberspace and the digital wastelands, I’m considered something of a Gebser-geek, which I take as no disparagement at all. When I am referred to that way or when it is intimated that I may be such, it is always with kindness and gentility. For one as simple-minded as I am at times, I will admit that Gebser is my go-to guy when it comes to consciousness, for the simple reason that he provides an elegantly simple framework for coming to terms with such a complex notion, and that simplicity lies in part with the fact that with only five structure total, it’s not more – literally – that a handful. I’m not the world’s most proficient juggler. Consequently, I am more hesitant than exuberant when it comes to his model. I would hate to think that anyone thought I was trying to paint reality with a Gebser brush. He’s helpful for me, that’s for sure. Others’ mileage may vary. So, you are right, my own notion of “integral” is much more Gebserian than anything else, for he’s always (but not solely) in the back of my mind.

And, I think another quasi-confession … actually a "fessin’ up … is in order: I am one of that generation (I’m model-year 1949), who followed Hermann Hesse’s admonishment to Journey to the East (my first real rabbit hole?). I spent a lot of hours with my nose in Vedas and sutras and the Gita, but never really came to terms with all the unpronounceable, hence unrememberable, termini technici from those cultural spheres. Zen, however, did hold my attention for quite a while; the Tao Te Ching holds a special place in my heart; but like Hesse’s Leo, I eventually returned to from whence I came, even if not as an adept.

So, if I can believe Adobe, the word “vijnana” doesn’t appear in TLD. And I would be disingenuous if I even implied that I had the slightest idea what that notion means.
What Sri Aurobindo does, of this I am sure, is speak from experience. His experience, however, is not the experience of the vast majority of people who feel drawn to his writings. That, in and of itself, makes him somewhat less than readily accessible. But – and this was part of the point of my post in response to @johnnydavis54 in this thread – what he speaks of is related to – perhaps less intense – experiences of others who are participating in this reading. This is difficult enough to try and sort out. You, however, do have an idea – and probably a lot more – of what it is he’s talking about, like for example, notions such as vijnana, so if you were to elaborate on the notion, I would certainly be willing to add in what I think those elaborations might mean in Gebser’s terms, for Gebser is familiar to many who are participating in the readings, and as far as I have my own take of things could perhaps say something here or there that would allow these notional spheres to harmonize. That could be beneficial for everyone involved.

It’s like what I was talking about in my response to John, and like what I think is happening in the reading as I have expressed in other posts related thereto: we’re all talking about the same thing, but we are using different words and metaphors to do so. We need to keep communicating and talking so that the harmonies and affinities become palpable, not just “felt”. I certainly want to do my part, but I wouldn’t want to overstep my own (capability) boundaries.


Hi Ed:

I apologize, in that I’ve not been inclined to offer as much of a “tornado” (Johnny, i love that word!!) of words as in previous weeks. I’m on a news and social media fast at the moment (inspired by frustrating attempts to have a dialog with a Trump supporter from India who is also a devotee of Sri Aurobindo - the combination still just boggles/shuts down my mind - the remnants of still believing I’m clever enough to be able to compassionately reach anybody - fools rush in, and all that).

About experience - I wrote a chapter on “meditation in the Integral Yoga” for the book “The Experience of Meditation,” edited by one of the founders of “The Journal of Consciousness Studies.” It was an absolutely impossible task, as the editor set out a structure which made absolutely no sense in terms of Integral Yoga practice, but somehow at least some of my IY friends thought my attempt wasn’t a complete failure.

One of the things I emphasized was, leaving aside all the intellectual/philosophic questions, a simple way of entering into the experience of the IY is what might be badly called a “feeling” in the heart - but it’s not a ‘feeling’ in the ordinary sense. A longing - what in Portuguese is called “saudade” - which is sometimes mistranslated as nostalgia, but it’s nostalgia in the Platonic sense of a “remembering” that we all have deep within, a sense, a feeling-sense if you will, a longing for what Charles Eisenstein calls “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” In a less saccharine wording, it is I think what Paul meant when he spoke of the longing (or “groaning” in some translations) of all of creation for the return of Christ; or what many Sufi mystics speak of when they talk of Allah as 'a hidden treasure that yearns to be found."

Like so many True feelings (or phenomena or noumena or whatever), the more one puts it into words the more distant it is from the Reality. Everyone seems to experience it in a profoundly different and unique way and yet there appear to be some commonalities. Even in my psych evals with some of the most distraught patients, I find by looking for what their deepest interest, their “true” longing is, it’s possible to touch something of what ancient India referred to as their “swabhava,” which Sri Aurobindo refers to sometimes as "the way which will for that individual (“individual” being the psychic being, not the surface mental/vital/physical construct or false self) be the ideal “line of evolution.”

(I’m afraid that "line of evolution" will again trigger concepts rather than pointing to "That" which even now resides within, throughout, and around us)

Someone at some point said something on one of these discussion threads about how difficult or even impossible it is to read someone and know what “level” they’re coming from. There’s a very amusing passage in a biography of Sri Krishna Prem by “Ashish” (that’s his Indian name; he was Prem’s major disciple and also VERY British). When Ashish first met Prem in that freezing cold remote Himalayan Ashram, at one point they were standing next to a shelf of books and Prem waved his hand over them and said, “You must be able to look at even a few words and KNOW if the author is speaking from That. If not, throw it away.” Ashish said something (it’s been a few years since I looked at it, so…) like, “I felt like he might as well have shown me a book of advanced physics or writings in Chinese and called on me to expound on it”

I’m afraid I’m making this all very complicated. I’ll try again, hopefully more succinctly.

That “Stillness” that was in the Kapali Sastry" passage I posted recently (Debashish, reading it on my FB page, referred to it as “pure gold” - he’s right), referred to instructions from Sri Aurobindo - there is a Silence in and around us. If we make an effort to stop our thoughts just briefly (this is not at all hard if we REALLY want to do it) we can become aware of this Silence. Once we do, we simply bring our attention to it again and again, not so much with personal “effort” but just letting go and allowing it to take us over.

if we pay close attention, we’ll notice a natural, spontaneous aspiration - perhaps coming from the heart region, but it may not have a specific bodily location. The Mother refers in the Agenda to this as a “flame” - “Agni” in Sanskrit terms - it is that longing for the “coming of our Lord”, for the finding of that Hidden Treasure, and not just to awaken to it but for it to bring the will of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” She says, “light this Flame, again and again, let it spread throughout every cell of the body, again, again and again, light the Flame, light the Flame, that is all that matters.”

My own personal experience is that this longing, this aspiration, was there but muffled for most of my childhood and burst into prominence in my late teens. When I look over the last 48 years, I am very humbled by how little "I" (the surface "I") have ever made choices. I see again and again that things I did or "chose" that puzzled me and may not have seemed to have meaning at the time have lead inexorably and inevitably to the present moment. (one of the most concrete puzzles for me is wondering how I got into music as a profession when I was so possessed by psychology in my mid teens - and yet now that I see how much more valuable music and imagery may be for the communication of yogic psychology than words alone, it all makes so much sense).

That aspiration is the “psychic being” guiding one even if the surface mind has no knowledge of it. This is so important in the Integral Yoga because Mother and Sri Aurobindo again and again said even full self-realization is not enough to be a channel for the Supramental Shakti. The individualized psychic being ('individualized" while being utterly one with both the cosmic and transcendental consciousness) is a necessary channel for that Force.

But my goodness there I go, back into Aurobindonian jargon. it’s so utterly simple. there is this aspiration, and opening to the Silence is in my experience one of the most powerful ways to nurture the aspiration, and as the flame of yearning and aspiration grows stronger, it gradually over the years takes over one’s life. One quite literally falls in love with God, and feels Her Presence everywhere in and as everything. Then, as my Sufi teacher Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee, quoting his guru’s guru “Bhai Sahib,” used to say,

Where is near, or far, swimming together in the infinite ocean of Love?