February 21, 2006

Integrality and the Purna Stotra

By Matthijs Cornelissen A talk given at the Cultural Integration Fellowship
San Francisco April 6, 2002 INDIAN PSYCHOLOGY INSTITUTE home
Integrality is an amazingly beautiful and powerful concept that, I think, is destined to pay a major role in the next stage of the collective evolution of consciousness in which we all are involved. It is somewhat urgent to talk about integrality because "integral" is becoming a kind of fashion word and once words become more popular, they tend to be used more and more trivially. I have heard a reputed and influential scientist object to applying an integral approach to the relationship between science and religion because he took integrality to mean the same as amalgamation – for him "integrating science and religion" implied that they were considered to be one and the same thing. This seems to me to be a rather tragical misunderstanding of integrality.
The concept of integrality in the names of the Cultural Integration Fellowship and the California Institute for Integral Studies was introduced with a very different purpose in mind. As far as I know, these names were coined to harmonise with Sri Aurobindo’s use of the word integral in Integral Yoga. Sri Aurobindo uses integral here as a translation of the Sanskrit word purna. and the word purna has a very beautiful and long history in India. Whenever the Upanishads are recited, it is a tradition to also recite the Purna Stotra:
Aum purnam adah…..
That is infinite. This is infinite. Infinite comes from infinite.
Take infinite from infinite, still infinite remains.
Aum. Peace! Peace! Peace!
It is a very short text in which the word purna occurs seven times. To translate purna is somewhat complex. In the context of the Purna Stotra you cannot really translate it with "integrality". In this context it is often translated with "the complete", or "the infinite". The stotra starts with, "That is infinite", meaning, "The Divine is infinite." "All This is infinite. This infinite comes from that infinite." And then it starts with a kind of mighty mathematics of the infinite. It says, "If you take away the infinite from the infinite, you still have the infinite." I think it is rather significant that whenever the Upanishads are recited, this Purna Stotra is used almost like a refrain. It realigns the listener to the infinite, and to effect that realignment is the very reason why the Upanishads are recited. The Purna Stotra is put in between other texts, to remind us that the real thing that matters is that completeness, that integrality, that totality that contains everything and that at the very same time is the inmost essence of everything. This ineffable totality exists in the aspect of That, which is totally beyond everything, and also in the aspect of This, the nitty-gritty of daily life. One cannot be without the other, for if you try, if you remove one from the other, still That One Infinite remains.
If one takes this concept of integrality seriously, then it turns upside down everything that we normally do and think. It is something extremely radical. If one really understands the concept of integrality, it gives a completely different perspective, a whole new understanding to life. The Western tradition in its basic approach, at least in the scientific sphere, is following just the opposite of an integral approach. It is rather significant that the scientific tradition has been basically reductionist, as reductionism is the direct opposite of integrality. What reductionism does, is to explain wholes out of their parts.
This non-physical element is not only present in the creation of complex "things" — like a car made out of parts, or a cathedral made out of stones. It is also there in all kind of processes, like the very activity of science. Physics, for example, deals, supposedly, only with inanimate matter, but what we overlook in saying so, is that in its dealing with inanimate matter, physics itself is a mental activity. Physics is to a very large extent based on mathematics and there is nothing material about mathematics. Mathematics is a phenomenon of the mental plane; it is a mental play with mental rules and symbols. So when we say that physical sciences are reductionist, this itself is already a misconception.
It is only because we completely identify with our mind that we don’t see it. When we think about the physical reality, that thinking as such is not a physical activity, but a mental activity; only, the mental aspect of it is hidden in ourselves. The fact remains that the total reality of a physicist looking at physical reality is not a purely physical phenomenon. It is something that is half mental, half physical, mental on the side of the subject, physical on the side of the object. So the physicist can pretend that he is working only with the physical reality, but that is only half the story.

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