The following article is based on a presentation made during the
Second International Conference on Integral Psychology,
held at Pondicherry (India), 4-7 January 2001.
The text has been published in:
Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001) Consciousness and Its Transformation. Pondicherry: SAICE.

Vedantic yoga-psychology

Ananda Reddy

In the last couple of days, hearing the speeches of the stalwarts in psychology, I was a bit nervous to come and speak to you this afternoon, myself not being a student of psychology. But, I think, I have got the greatest of confidence now. Just as I was walking to this table, I picked up this message of the Mother that fell off from Shraddhavan's file. It reads, “I am near you. The Mother”. It is indeed very meaningful for me. There could not be a greater force than this message to give me confidence!

What I felt after the many psychologists spoke in the last two days is that the essential features of modern psychology, of which you have been speaking, have been covered already by the Upanishads that existed thousands of years ago. Sri Aurobindo has an apt comment regarding modern psychology:

The significance of the lotus is not to be found by analysing the secrets of the mud from which it grows here. Its secret is to be found in the heavenly archetype lotus that blooms for ever in the light above.  

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 1609

I think this is the essence of modern psychology as well as the ancient Vedantic psychology. In other words what is the essential realisation of the Vedantins? They had two basic realisations, says Sri Aurobindo. The first one is Sat, Chit and Ananda. He calls it the subjective realisation. Most of you would be knowing these terms: Sat is Existence, Chit is Consciousness and Ananda is Bliss. What exactly is subjective and objective? Well, interestingly, Max Velmans was discussing the other day if there was anything like subjective or objective or if everything is only subjective?

The second one is again a trilogy called the objective experience. The three terms are Satyam, Jnanam, and Anantam, meaning Truth, Knowledge and Infinity. The whole of the Vedanta is just these two formulas—one being the subjective and the other being the objective. And amongst all the Upanishads the three most important ones are the Isha, Kena and Chhandogya. These three Upanishads deal with three different aspects: Isha looks into the truth of Brahman and the truth of the world—the aspect of Satyam. Kena looks into the mental consciousness vis-à-vis the Brahman consciousness—the aspect of Knowledge. And Chhandogya looks into the unlimited—the aspect of Infinity. So the three Upanishads deal with the three aspects, which are the essentials of objective knowledge as per the Vedanta.

From these I shall take up the aspect of Anantam, Infinity as seen in the Chhandogya—as in this limited time I cannot speak about all the three realisations in the different Upanishads. The Chhandogya Upanishad gives us the yoga process, the steps of yoga, which could be called the Vedantic yoga-psychology.

Here the first thing that we see is that the main stress is on the realisation of Sachchidananda or Brahman as Infinity. For the Vedantins to know the Superconscient is the first thing. Only afterwards can the knowledge of the outer-consciousness be obtained with certitude and in the right perspective. To know the whole is more important than to know the particular according to the Vedantins. For that would give us the consciousness of oneness in the many.

One of the chapters in the Chhandogya Upanishad opens with a dialogue between Narad and Sanat Kumara. Narad, is the highest representative of Brahmanhood and Sanat Kumara is a War God. (This was only to emphasise that Kshatriyas also had the knowledge of Brahman and not just the Brahmins.) Narad comes to Sanat Kumara and says that he would like to know about the Unlimited or the Ananatam or the Bhooman. A very beautiful word indeed—Bhooman and not Brahman. So Sanat Kumara asks Narad, “What is it that you know by now?” Here is the mind-boggling list of things that Narad knew. He replied:

My Lord, this is what I have learnt: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sam Veda, Atharva Veda, the Fifth Veda comprising History and Mythology; next, Grammar, Mathematics, Logic and Politics, the science of Computing time, Theology, Fine Arts and the Ritual Lore; Demonology, Astrology, and the Art of Predicting Fate; the Knowledge of Ancestors and of Serpents. I know all this, my Lord, and very well. This has made me master of the Word, but has not given me knowledge of the Self. I have heard that only by the knowledge of the Self can one pass beyond sorrow and pain. I am immersed in sorrow and pain, please reach me to the other shore.

Gupta, N. K., 1989, p.147

This is, indeed, something very relevant for us, we who claim to know so much of the material world and yet are full of sorrow and pain. And thereupon Sanat Kumara answered by giving sixteen steps. These sixteen steps are: vac, manas, samkalpa, cittam, dhyanam, balam, annam, apah, tejas, akasa, smara, asha, prana and bhuman. What is important to note is that there is here an ascending order. Sanat Kumara guides Narad, telling him how to go about from the most external consciousness to the highest one. They are practical steps teaching him how without withdrawing from the external world one could attain higher levels of consciousness.

And these steps could be divided into four sections, as has been shown by Nolini Kanta Gupta. The first one is the mental consciousness and here the seven steps are—name, speech, mind, will, thought, meditation and knowledge. Sanat Kumara says that greater than name is speech and then each step from mind and will and thought is higher than the level below, ultimately culminating in knowledge. But this is only the knowledge of the particular—what we say in Sanskrit, viveka or discriminatory knowledge. When an individual learns to discriminate between good and bad or the lower and the higher etc. he attains the highest level of “knowledge of the particular” in the mental world.

Man is basically a dual expression of Being and Becoming, Purusha and Prakriti. What we know of man is normally only the Becoming, the outer part only. But that is insufficient and incomplete knowledge. What I feel is that in psychology or in psychoanalysis or in psychotherapy we are mostly dealing with this Becoming aspect of man, we are trying to analyze our external being only. For example, Jan Maslow was telling us yesterday to find out one's own judgments, to be aware of them and then to suspend them etc. All these therapeutic methods are basically modes of contacting the aspect of Becoming. But what I feel is that unless we link up with the Being aspect, psychotherapy or any other mode will not be of great use to humanity for a long time. As man is fundamentally moulded by both aspects of Purusha and Prakriti, a detachment from the Becoming must lead us to the Being, the most essential part of man. To quote Sri Aurobindo in this regard:

The experience of Purusha-Prakriti, the Spirit or Conscious Being in its relations to Nature, is of immense pragmatic importance; for on these relations the whole play of the consciousness depends in the embodied being. If the Purusha in us is passive and allows Nature to act, accepting all she imposes on him, giving a constant automatic sanction, then the soul in mind, life, body, the mental, vital, physical in us, becomes subject to our nature, ruled by its formation, driven by its activities; that is the normal state of our ignorance. If the Purusha in us becomes aware of itself as the Witness and stands back from Nature, that is the first step to the soul's freedom; for it becomes detached, and it is possible then to know Nature and her processes and in all independence, since we are no longer involved in her works, to accept or not to accept, to make the sanction no longer automatic but free and effective; we can choose what she shall do or not do in us, or we can stand back altogether from her works and withdraw easily into the Self's spiritual silence, or we can reject her present formation and rise to a spiritual level of existence and from there re-create our existence.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 348

The second section deals with body as the base. This is very interesting. From the widening of mental consciousness and clarification, of the first stage, the Vedanta does not tell us to leap into a high spiritual consciousness. On the contrary, it turns the sadhak or the aspirant towards the development of the body consciousness, for, the body consists of the essence of the material world—the forces of solids, liquids, energy and air. Solids are Annam which forms the physical body of man, “while liquids give it life and mobility in the form of nutrition, energy is stamina, the ability of movement both in and outside the body; air gives it the sense of width and expansion.

(Gupta, N. K., 1989, p. 148)

Here the significance of the development of the body, as we read in Sri Aurobindo, becomes clearer. We cannot go beyond into the subtle levels of consciousness and manifest it without the support of the body which must be strong, supple and harmonious. It is only after consolidating the body-consciousness that the journey into the subliminal could be undertaken effectively.

This morning you heard Dr. Soumitra Basu speak to you about the three different layers of the being: the outermost being, the subliminal and the innermost. The Chhandogya Upanishad also speaks about the subliminal being but in a different terminology. It says that one has to start the process of going inwards with memory. Then the next step is hope. The third is prana and the fourth is truth. How do we relate all these to the subliminal? Memory gives man the drive for action on the external level. But its deeper function is to keep him in constant contact with the deeper truth of our being. Memory of the past may lead us to the future but memory of our deeper self leads us on our spiritual path.

The second step is hope. Hope is indeed greater than memory, says Sanat Kumara because through hope, memory is kindled.

It learns the sacred hymns and the sayings; one then accomplishes holy deeds, cherishes a desire for sons and cattle, for this world and the yonder world; you should adore Hope! He who adores the Hope as Brahman, brings through the Hope all his wishes to fulfilment. His prayers will never become fruitless.

Deussen and Bedekar, 1980, p. 184

On the psychological level, hope is a form of aspiration, just as remembrance is a form of surrender. It an aspiration for reaching and realising the Bhooma , the Unlimited, the Bliss.

Next we have the prana.

The life breath is indeed greater than hope; because just as the spokes are inserted in the hub, so also everything is attached to this life. The life proceeds through the life, the life gives the life; it bestows life on a living creature. The life is the father and is the mother, the brother and sister; the life is the teacher and the Brahmana. That is why when anybody snubs harshly his father or mother or brother or sister or teacher or a Brahmana, one says 'fie upon you'! You are a murderer of the father, a murderer of the mother, a murderer of the brother, a murderer of the sister, of the teacher, of the Brahmana.

Deussen and Bedekar, 1980, p.185

Prana or life energy, when converted into a yogic effort, becomes the force of tapasya , the tejas that brings in a purification of mind resulting in a calmness and quietness of thought.

The fourth step is the truth. We see that first we have memory, then hope, then prana and the last step is the truth. Truth is not merely the question of attaining a higher consciousness. The more positive thing is the rejection of falsehood. Especially when it comes to the issues of day-to-day life—in which psychotherapy is trying to help—it is to reject the falsehood—what is wrong, what is false or whatever is weak within us. This is what they call truth at this level.

These practices could be linked up with Sri Aurobindo's terminology in integral yoga. Hope is what we call aspiration. Truth we call rejection. And memory is surrender. And integral yoga speaks of these three things exactly—aspiration, rejection and surrender as the essentials of yoga-sadhana.

Through this process of aspiration, rejection and surrender we begin to open up to a spiritual aspect within us—that is the fourth level. On this level the first step is that of knowledge—this is not the same knowledge as we had analysed on the first level where it was more the mental consciousness. There it was more viveka , a discriminatory knowledge. But here it is the knowledge of the Vast, of Oneness, of Bhooma.

And the second step is that of contemplation or concentration, required for knowledge. Concentration implies here a concentrated one-pointedness.

The third step is faith—an unwavering trust. Faith implies steadfastness and to make the latter effective, there is need of action. This is a deep truth of integral yoga— that faith cannot increase through bhajans or prayers alone. Faith increases best when it is put into action. Just as Sri Aurobindo emphasises works, the Vedantic Rishis too say that faith increases through action only. Then this action leads to joy which is indeed the mainspring of all our endeavours. We know that delight is the essence of creation. Delight is the source, Delight is the ultimate. But the Rishi says that the joy is no ordinary pleasure. Its other name is Vastness. The Vast is the Delight—what we had said in the beginning—Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam. Anantam is that Infinity, Unlimitedness or Vastness. This Vastness is the highest realization.

How is it that the Illimitable is Delight? In Sri Aurobindo's book, The Life Divine , he explains this concept most clearly. He says that Anantam is absolute freedom. And absolute freedom is another form of absolute delight. So once we reach this delight, as it is said in another Upanishad, we realize what is called, Tadvnam, that Delight or the Brahman, for He is also known as “That Delight”.

What truth, knowledge and infinity bring to us on the practical, day-to-day level is the consciousness of unity and oneness. This conclusion is the most important—that getting the consciousness of any one of these, truth or knowledge or infinity, we get the total sense of unity and oneness. This is where the evolution is moving —towards a universal oneness.

This sense and consciousness of oneness and unity is however best brought about only by the supramental consciousness, says Sri Aurobindo. He says that this consciousness of oneness cannot descend into the mental level. So this is where Vedanta and Sri Aurobindo come together. Vedanta does not mention the Supermind but it does tell us about the eternal consciousness of oneness. I feel that modern psychology, through its various attempts and ways, is exploring ways to find out this unitarian consciousness. And once we find that, what is it that we get? Sri Aurobindo says that by reaching that Brahmanhood, we become centers of the divine Delight, shedding it on all and attracting all to it.

And Sanat Kumara also says, concluding his conversation with Narad:

Indeed for him who thus sees, thinks and knows, the life arises out of his soul, the hope arises our of his soul, the memory arises out of his soul, the world-space out of his soul, the heat out of his soul, the water out of his soul, the creation and dissolution out of his soul, the food out of his soul, the struggle out of his soul, the intelligent knowledge out of his soul, the thought out of his soul, the resolution out of his soul, the Manas out of his soul, the speech out of his soul, the name out of his soul, the holy hymns and sayings out of his soul, the holy deeds out of his soul— the whole world arises out of his soul.

Deussen and Bedekar, 1980, pp. 188-89

So this is the conclusion of the Vedantic yogins who as you see didn't even have the word “psychology” at that time. May I take the occasion to submit to the esteemed audience here a clarification regarding the term “integral psychology”? If the term is merely “integral psychology”, there could be the possibility that it does not include the concept of the Divine. And just as integral yoga does not exist without the essential element of the Divine, so integral psychology cannot exist without the concept and experience of the Divine. If psychology in general can accept to bring in the concept of the Divine, (which may be very difficult in the Western world today), then you can go ahead and use this term “integral psychology”. But if it is not possible to do so for whatever reasons, then it is better we call it “integral yoga-psychology”, because it will inevitably carry the concept of the Divine. All that Sri Aurobindo says is centered around the concept of the Divine. So, the Divine must be the center of the psychology too if it is to be considered as integral psychology. So, keeping this in mind you call it what you want but let us remember that without the concept of the Divine, which is represented by the Mother in integral yoga—the Mother shakti— integral psychology is not what Sri Aurobindo would mean by it. Well, I have only this to submit. The rest is for you to do as you think best—it is not my cup of tea but only your cup of coffee!


Deussen and Bedekar , 1980, Sixty Upanishads , Varanasi: Motilal Banarsi Dass

Gupta, Nolini Kanta, 1989, Collected Works , Vol. 8, Calcutta: NKG Birth Centenary Committee

Reddy, Madhusudan V, 1990, Integral Yoga Psychology , Hyderabad: Institute of Human Study