August 08, 2008

His practice of yoga allowed him to view his jailers, judge, and jury as divine actors rather than as enemies

Richard Carlson is a writer/musician and the president of Pacific Weather Inc, a firm which monitors meteorological information at airports throughout the United States. His interests include all matters related to Jazz, Poetry, Integral Yoga, Critical Theory, and Global Climate Change. He holds a Master of Arts degree from Antioch University and currently resides with family on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. His observations on post-Katrina New Orleans, entitled: Louis Armstrong International Airport, will be published as part of the Digital Future series by University of Toronto Press Fall 2008 HOME
Integral Ideology An Ideological Genealogy ofIntegral Theory and Practice
Richard Carlson

But even if one can trace certain ideas developed in recent Integral Theory to an ancestry in German Idealism and Darwinism. The first usage of the word integral as applied to the theories and practices under review here can be traced back to the work of Sri Aurobindo and Jean Gebser... Sri Aurobindo's integral yoga grafts itself to the Modernist idea of progressive evolution. Although Sri Aurobindo, who was also attempting to reconcile the cyclic view of Yugas in Indian mythology with Darwinian evolution, referred to progress as curiously circular not linear...

Although Sri Aurobindo, the founder of Integral Yoga formally eschewed couching his yoga in religion nevertheless, religious practices crept into the practices of its followers. It is in fact the transference of Hindu religious practices on to Integral Yoga which has facilitated a fascination of some of his followers with the fundamentalist rhetoric of todays militant Hindu nationalism (Hinduvta).
Some of his writings from the period in which he was a revolutionary leader of the Indian Independence movement have been been historically decontextualized and appropriated by various fractions of Hindu nationalist in support of their ethnically cleansed view of India. These writings usually referenced by Hinduvta authors, or even Leftist critics of the Hindu Right, are generally those of an early period in his work “between 1901 to 1913” (Heehs 2006 para 7) in which Sri Aurobindo discovered and immersed himself in the text and practices of Hinduism.
In many respects Hinduism for Sri Aurobindo was an indigenous resistance practice to the foreign occupation and value systems of the Raj. In his writings from this early period one finds the identification of the Hindu concept of sanatan dharma -eternal religion- with the self-determination of India itself. Although Sri Aurobindo, as one of the first leaders of the Indian Independence movement, had been put on trail for his life by the British for sedition, his practice of yoga allowed him to view his jailers, judge, and jury as divine actors rather than as enemies. His response to his prosecution was one of equanimity and peace rather than hated and distress. After release he advocated non-violent resistance to colonialist occupation, his yogic practice even reinforcing the secular values of the Enlightenment in which he was schooled at Cambridge.
If there are distinct themes in his socio-political writing, concerning the current epoch, one of the strongest is the call for Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. It can be said that in matters of Liberty, Sri Aurobindo was Jeffersonian, of Equality, he was Marxist, and although certainly not an ardent pacifist, in matters of Fraternity, the author of the Ideal of Human Unity, could even be called a Gandhian.
Sri Aurobindo advocated a secular democratic government which would allow the infinite diversity of the nations voices to be heard. After 1913 until his death in 1950 he renounced sectarian religious practice and no longer associated his yoga with Hinduism, claiming its practice transcended any conventional religion.
In fact a close reading of his major socio-political works such as The Human Cycle and The Ideal of Human Unity demonstrate his abhorrence of theocracy and fundamentalism. In some places he fervently exclaims that it is better to be an atheist than a fanatical follower of religion.
Sri Aurobindo's life was in many way heroic, his knowledge was both complex and encyclopedic. He viewed his own accomplishments as the result of the efforts of a man aspiring for transformation and transparency to the grace received from above. He did however, speak of his yogic consort Mirra Alfassa (the Mother) as an incarnation of the Divine in its form of Shakti. For her part the Mother referred to Sri Aurobindo as an Avatar (divine incarnation). While it can be said that they both did not actively seek worshipers and were kind to their followers, it can also be said that they did not reject the worship and deification of their devotees.
It is one thing to believe that in a universe in which consciousness is delineated by various graduations, that on some planes of consciousness, expressions of devotion through the articulation of feelings (bhakti) are entirely proper, it is quite another not to comprehend - especially when one otherwise advocates for secular polity and eschewing religious dogma - that some followers will become attached to the forms of worship and inevitably confuse levels of consciousness, as well as secular and sacred, subcultural and cultural, theocratic and democratic values.
While claiming to disassociate his yoga from Hinduism many of the practices of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram during his lifetime (and certainly today) in fact mimic traditional forms of Hinduism. These practices include performance of an audience with the Guru (darshan) and prostration at the feet of the Guru. Moreover, it appears that these practices were deliberately cultivated to satisfy the psychological needs of Indian followers by preserving their religious traditions, because in the words of the Mother : “it gave them the fullness they needed”. (Heehs 2008 p356). Even if uttered with the best of intention this statement is absolutely patronizing. The fact that the Mother was French makes matters somewhat more problematic. Couldn't Indian followers also adapt to a yoga that eschewed religious practice or were they too unsophisticated? In short, while the rituals cultivated in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram are indeed indigenous religious practices of India they seem out of place in a yoga which claims to renounce religion and sectarianism. Although a genealogy tracing Integral Yoga to today's Hindu nationalist politics can not be established, one can certainly find certain affinities with Hindu religious practices. It is this allegiance to Hinduism and the transference of its sectarian values system on to political discourse, that no doubt facilitates the embrace of some Integral Yogis of reactionary Hindu nationalism...

Wilber's method of colonializing cultural alterity is by its very nature hegemonic, and even predatory. He does this with a number of Eastern thinkers and mystics. As an instance this practice, I will provide an example of how he treats the Indian revolutionary and founder of Integral Yoga, Sri Aurobindo.
Sri Aurobindo came to prominence as one of the first leaders of the Indian independence movement that sought to overthrow the colonialist empire of Great Britain on the subcontinent. His first writings which came to public scrutiny were those advocating resistance to the colonialist rule of the Raj. Apart from these political writings he also wrote several major treatises on culture and social and political history, including The Foundations of Indian Culture, The Ideal of Human Unity, The Human Cycle, War and Self Determination.
In his appropriation of Sri Aurobindo, Ken Wilber collapses the entirety of his work into a single quadrant (upper left) of his AQAL model, totally ignoring his cultural and socio-political texts or his life as a revolutionary leader of an independence struggle. Wilber's exclusive emphasis of Sri Aurobindo the yogi, fails to contextualize him also as an important cultural figure in India who has written extensively on society and history. Wilber overlooks the genealogy of Sri Aurobindo's works are rooted in the Indic Darshan discourses. Rarely, if ever does Wilber ever highlight Sri Aurobindo's meditations on the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita which background his writing and provide important interpretive keys which contextualize his voice against the history of the subcontinent.

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