Integrating yoga epistemology and ontology into
an expanded integral approach to research

By William Braud

This new psychology looks to me very much like children learning some summary and not very adequate alphabet . . . and imagining that their first book of obscure beginnings . . . is the very heart of the real knowledge. They look from down up and explain the higher lights by the lower obscurities; but the foundation of these things is above and not below. .  The superconscient, not the subconscient, is the true foundation of things. 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 of the lotus that blooms for ever in the Light above. . . . you must know the whole before you can know the part and the highest before you can truly understand the lowest. That is the promise of the greater psychology awaiting its hour…  

Sri Aurobindo (1993, p. 97)

For students who initially encounter research courses in their graduate psychology training at our Institute of Transpersonal Psychology research and empirical are thought to be synonymous with quantitative and experimental. They soon come to appreciate that there is more to quantitative research than experiments—that this form of research also includes less restrictive causal-comparative and correlational approaches. More important, they also quickly learn that research legitimately includes even less restrictive qualitative approaches, and that empirical can be understood in its original meaning of being based on experience. This growth of students’ understanding of the nature of research mimics the ongoing extension and expansion of research and disciplined inquiry approaches in psychology at large.

Although still enthralled by positivistic and cognitive behavioural assumptions and practices, researchers in psychology now are employing an increasing variety of qualitative methods and inquiry approaches. These include forms of research with names such as cooperative inquiry, grounded theory, hermeneutics, heuristic research, multiple case studies, narrative research, participatory action research, and phenomenological research (see Braud & Anderson, 1998). Virtually all of these acknowledge the crucial importance of the researcher as the chief instrument of knowing and also emphasize human lived experiences as their primary subject matter.

Along with this felicitous extension and expansion of research approaches, there has been a corresponding growth in the recognition of alternative and complementary modes of knowing. Within psychology, some of these have been identified with different intelligences (multiple intelligences, somatic intelligence, emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence), feminine ways of knowing, forms of knowing associated with different states of consciousness, intuition, tacit knowing, and different forms of learning and memory (see Braud, 2006a).

Contemporary psychologists now recognize an expanded range of what might be known.

They study observable behaviours and actions of individuals, groups, societies, and cultures, but they also have developed technologies that allow them to explore covert processes such as physiological reactions and the concomitants of imagery, thinking, memories, and volition. They now investigate intangibles such as “qualia,” meanings, imaginings, symbolic and even unconscious processes.

These developments have been useful and fruitful, yet they remain unnecessarily limited. Despite these extensions and expansions, much still has been left out, and much remains undone. There is a need for even more inclusive forms of research and disciplined inquiry—forms that provide greater opportunities for synergistic interactions of knowledge gain, clinical and other practical applications, and the personal and psychospiritual growth, development, and even possible transformation of the researcher. There is a need for effective bridging of science and the various spiritual and wisdom traditions. Growth in areas of morality, scholarship, depth and subtlety of thought, care, and wisdom seems not to have kept pace with the growth of knowledge. Although we have experienced great advances in technology, today we appear to know more and more about less and less, and know less and less about truly important matters—matters of ultimate concern.

Indian psychology and yogic epistemology and ontology can contribute much to enrich research and help satisfy the needs mentioned above. In this paper I describe ways in which Yogic principles, and processes closely related to these, already have been usefully introduced into research praxis. I also suggest additional ways in which aspects of Yoga might be integrated into research in the future and how this might enliven and transform the research enterprise. Before treating these contributions, some additional background will be useful.

A pluralistic epistemology

I alluded, above, to the increasing recognition, in Western psychology, of alternative modes of knowing. Different forms of knowing have received equal or greater attention outside of Western psychology—in philosophy and in the great spiritual and wisdom traditions, particularly in the Indian tradition.

Virtually all traditions have distinguished forms of knowing that are intellectual and of the head from those that are experiential and of the heart. In intellectual knowing, the knower is removed from what is to be known; the knowing is mediated, and it tends to be academic, abstract, and cognitive. Experiential knowing is fully and deeply lived, immediate, and embodied; it tends to be particular and concrete.

In the West, these major complementary forms of knowing have been variously described and named. In early Greek philosophy, they appear as dianoia (the discursive, conceptualizing, and logical faculty) and nous (the largest manifestation of mind, the deepest core of one’s being that could know the inner essences or principles of things by means of direct apprehension or perception). Dianoia was only part of nous (see Palmer, Sherrard & Ware, 1995, pp. 427-437). Nous possessed qualities “more spiritual than mind, more intellectual than spirit” (Underhill, 1960, p. 121). In the well-known opening passage of Ennead 4.8.1, Plotinus mentioned descending from Intellect (nous) to discursive reasoning (dianoia).

In the Middle Ages, the different forms of knowing often were described as different eyes—the eye of the flesh (sensory knowing), the eye of reason (mental knowing), and the eye of contemplation (spiritual knowing). These ways of knowing were elaborated, for example, by Boethius, by Hugh of St. Victor and other Victorine mystics (Richard of St. Victor, Thomas of St. Victor), by Bonaventure, and by Thomas Aquinas (see Boethius, 524/1980; Bonaventure, 1259/1953; McGinn, 1996, 1998; Thomas Aquinas, 1267-1273/1971).

Roger Bacon (1268/1928) distinguished two modes of acquiring knowledge: by reasoning [argument] and by experience. For Bacon, nothing could be sufficiently known without experience; when one has had an actual experience, one’s mind was made certain and rested in the full light of truth.

William James, in the Principles of Psychology (1890/1950), distinguished two kinds of knowledge: knowledge-about (which might also be called representative knowledge, and of which thoughts, conceptions, and judgments are the vehicles) and knowledge of [or by] acquaintance (of which feelings, emotions, and sensations are the vehicles; pp. 221-222). The former can be imparted to others; the latter, because it is a direct and immediate experience, cannot be so imparted—through conventional means—but must be partaken of, directly, by another, in order to be appreciated.

Similar distinctions have been made in the various streams of the Sufism tradition:

Knowledge is empty unless it is connected internally with what is known. Reason always means knowledge at a distance, across the mediation of language and concepts; but wisdom presupposes something like the intimacy of becoming what one knows. “What a difference there is,” al-Ghazali writes in his autobiography, “between knowing the definition of health and satiety, together with their causes and presuppositions, and being healthy and satisfied!” (p. 55). Only the mystics can raise knowledge to the level of gnosis (ma’rifa), in which one experiences what one knows with all the intimacy of being... (Bruns, 1992, p. 127)

Within the Naqshbandi tradition of Sufism, in using experiences with fruit as metaphors for knowing the Divine, the forms of knowing are elaborated further:

Three “kinds of knowledge” . . . have to be separated, and the difference has to be felt:

  • The description of something—as in the words used to convey the idea of a fruit;
  • The feeling of something, as when one can see, feel, and smell a fruit;
  • The perceptive connection with something, as when one takes and tastes, eats and absorbs a fruit.

These three departments of cognition are described in more technical language as:

  • Certain knowledge (Ilm-al-Yaqin), which comes from the intellect, which tells us that there is a fruit;
  • Eye of certainty (Ayn-al-Yaqin), which is from the “inner eye,” and operates like the senses but in relation to deeper things; the “assessment of a fruit”;
  • Perfect truth (Haqq-al-Yaqin), which is the experience of “union with Truth.” (Schneck, 1980, pp. 32-33)

Additional forms of knowing that have been treated in the West include Dilthey’s concepts of Erlebnis (“intentional experience”), Verstehen (“empathetic understanding”), and Nachleben (“re-experiencing” or “reliving”; see Hargiss, 2001); tacit knowing and personal knowledge (Polanyi, 1964); a form of knowing called mimesis, in which a member of the audience of a performance comes to know through imitation, personal identification, and sympathetic resonance with a performer (Havelock, 1963; Simon, 1978); and ritual knowing, in which participation in a ritual can allow one to know in a more direct personal manner and embody what is being addressed in the ritual and can facilitate transformative change (Deslauriers, 1992), especially in liminal contexts (McMahon, 1998). To these may be added knowing through affect, compassion, and love; through being and becoming what is to be known; through direct knowing and intuition; through sympathetic resonance and empathy; through unknowing; and through pure consciousness (see Braud & Anderson, 1998; Forman, 1997, 1999). The varieties of paranormal knowing—processes identified as telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition—also can be added to this listing (see, for example, Braud, 2006a; Rammohan, 2002).

Within the Yogic and Indian psychology traditions, the means of knowing have been described with great subtlety and precision. Three aspects of knowing, in particular, can be highlighted here: the refinement of knowing within the training system of the Patañjali Yoga-Sūtras, Sri Aurobindo’s views of the four types of knowledge, and Sri Aurobindo’s views of the process of intuition.

The eight limbs described in the Patañjali Yoga-Sūtras (see, for example, Woods, 1927) provide ways of readying and purifying the body, emotions, and mind for a form of knowing through being or identifying with what is to be known, achieved through saṁyama, the intensive and conjoint practice of the last three limbs of dhāraṇā (concentration), dhyāna (contemplation or meditation), and samādhi (absorption). The several limbs of Patañjali rājayogayama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi—provide methods for systematically reducing the possible environmental, social, bodily, sensory, emotional, and cognitive sources of “noise” or distraction that might serve as impediments to, or distortions of, accurate and sensitive knowing.

Sri Aurobindo (1972, pp. 524-525) identified and described four forms of knowing:

Our surface cognition, our limited and restricted mental way of looking at our self, at our inner movements and at the world outside us and its objects and happenings, is so constituted that it derives in different degrees from a fourfold order of knowledge. . . . A knowledge by identity, a knowledge by intimate direct contact, a knowledge by separative direct contact, a wholly separative knowledge by indirect contact are the four cognitive methods of Nature.

These four types of knowledge have been clearly elaborated by Matthijs Cornelissen (2001, (pp. 7-9):

Sri Aurobindo distinguishes four different types of knowledge that are routinely used in the ordinary waking state. Together they form a gradient between the external knowledge that Science works with and the inner knowledge that according to the Vedic tradition is the essence of all other forms of knowledge. The four types of knowledge are called as follows:

  • Knowledge by indirect separative contact (= scientific knowledge of the outer reality)
  • Knowledge by direct separative contact (= objective introspection of inner processes)
  • Knowledge by direct intimate contact (= experiential knowledge of inner processes)
  • Knowledge by identity (= Vedic knowledge)

The first type of knowledge, knowledge by indirect separative contact, consists of explicit, objective information about what we see as the external world. Sri Aurobindo describes it as indirect because it is mediated by the external sense organs, and as separative because it goes together with a sense of clear separation between the self, who is the knower, and the object, which is the known. This type of knowledge has been developed and expanded impressively by the physical sciences . . .

The last type, knowledge by identity, is the very different type of knowledge that we have of our own existence. For this type of knowledge the senses are not required as it is a knowledge that arises "from inside out." It is the knowledge we have of ourselves simply because we are. There is no difference here between subject and object and, in a way, not even a process: knowing and being are one. In our ordinary waking consciousness, knowledge by identity is hardly developed and almost point-like in character: it is undifferentiated and has no other content than the bare fact of its own existence. But according to the Vedic tradition, it is possible, through extensive spiritual practice, to develop this type of knowing further and then there is no theoretical limit to its scope. It is through this type of knowledge that the individual is considered capable of realising his or her identity with the Cosmic or the Transcendent Divine. It is also this type of knowledge the Upaniṣad speaks about when it says: "When That is known, all is known." The logic behind this amazingly bold statement is that knowledge by identity is in essence the knowledge of the Self, and as all individual Selves are ultimately one, it is considered possible to have an intimate self-knowledge of other selves. This claim is in principle open for experimental testing, but it may be clear that it requires a rather radical change in many aspects of one’s cognitive functioning to make knowledge by identity operational to a substantial degree. It should not be surprising, however, if smaller manifestations of the basic principle would be found to be fairly common, for example in occurrences of telepathic communication.

In between these two extremes there are two more types of knowledge, both used for our internal states and processes. The first is knowledge about internal, psychological and physiological states and processes obtained by looking "objectively" at what is happening inside oneself. . . . In this type of knowledge there is a small gap between the observer and the inner process that is being observed. This type of knowledge is thus called knowledge by separative direct contact, separative because there is this sense of distance between the knower and the known, direct because the outer senses are not required. This type of knowledge was, under the name of "introspection," used extensively in Psychology till the second decade of the twentieth century when it was discarded in favour of a purely external study of behaviour...

In the third type of knowledge one identifies with some inner psychological state or process. One is conscious, but one does not observe what is going on inside because one is fully involved in what one is doing. . . . This third type is thus called knowledge by intimate direct contact, intimate because the observer is united with the observed, and direct because there are no intermediary sense organs involved. Knowledge by intimate direct contact is hardly used in the development of science but, under the name of "experiential knowledge," it is an essential element of all forms of "learning by doing" and the training of skills. . . .  It can be trained to extraordinary levels of intensity and refinement by spiritual practice and it plays an important role in most mystical traditions.

Sri Aurobindo (1972, pp. 946-947, 949) described a special form of knowing that he called intuition. Intuition, of course, has meant many different things to different people.  For Aurobindo, it has a special meaning, as follows:

Intuition is a power of consciousness nearer and more intimate to the original knowledge by identity; for it is always something that leaps out direct from a concealed identity. It is when the consciousness of the subject meets with the consciousness in the object, penetrates it and sees, feels or vibrates with the truth of what it contacts, that the intuition leaps out like a spark or lightning-flash from the shock of the meeting; or when the consciousness, even without any such meeting, looks into itself and feels directly and intimately the truth or the truths that are there or so contacts the hidden forces behind appearances, then also there is the outbreak of an intuitive light; or, again, when the consciousness meets the Supreme Reality or the spiritual reality of things and beings and has a contactual union with it, then the spark, the flash or the blaze of intimate truth-perception is lit in its depths. This close perception is more than sight, more than conception: it is the result of a penetrating and revealing touch which carries in it sight and conception as part of itself or as its natural consequence. A concealed or slumbering identity, not yet recovering itself, still remembers or conveys by the intuition its own contents and the intimacy of its self-feeling and self-vision of things, its light of truth, its overwhelming and automatic certitude. . . .

Intuition has a fourfold power. A power of revelatory truth-seeing, a power of inspiration or truth-hearing, a power of truth-touch or immediate seizing of significance, which is akin to the ordinary nature of its intervention in our mental intelligence, a power of true and automatic discrimination of the orderly and exact relation of truth to truth,—these are the fourfold potencies of Intuition. Intuition can therefore perform all the action of reason,—including the function of logical intelligence, which is to work out the right relation of things and the right relation of idea with idea,—but by its own superior process and with steps that do not fail or falter.

Don Salmon (2001, pp. 31-33) has provided a useful treatment of Sri Aurobindo’s views on intuition, elaborating the concept, identifying it with Aurobindo’s conception of the faculty of supramental consciousness (Aurobindo’s vijñāna), distinguishing it from other processes, indicating how it underlies all other forms of knowing, and suggesting ways in which intuition might be developed. The latter is treated later in this paper.

The simplest description of intuition is the direct knowledge of Reality, a knowledge in which the knower is not separate from either the process of knowing or the object which is known. . . . It is the consciousness of the subject (the percipient for which the brain constructs the image) meeting up with the consciousness in the object (the apparently separate perceived object - a chair, tree, rock, etc.) that is united by means of an intuition which is rooted in the same Self common to both. . . . In using intuition one has to become involved in what one knows, but without getting lost in it. . . . Intuition underlies virtually all forms of knowing, whether instinctive, aesthetic, imaginative or intellectual.

An additional form of knowing, described in certain Indian traditions, is that of śaktipatha, which involves the direct transmission of experiential knowledge or “spiritual energy” from one person to another (usually from guru to celā), which may influence a dramatic change in being in the recipient of such a transmission.

The various Western and Indian views presented above suggest a pluralistic epistemology involving a spectrum of ways of knowing. The range and varieties of what might be known in these different ways also suggests a pluralistic ontology—a spectrum of knowables, with each aspect of that spectrum having its distinctive reality.

A pluralistic ontology

Near the beginning of this paper, I mentioned the variety of “objects of knowing” that are being explored in contemporary Western psychology—the “big three” being affects, behaviours, and cognitions. This could be expanded to include a wide range of physical, physiological, somatic, emotional, mental, imaginal, societal, and cultural processes and contents, which can be addressed by a combination of first-person, second-person, and third-person approaches that are being applied to the study of consciousness (e.g., Varela & Shear, 2002) and by means of the four major perspectives described by Ken Wilber (2000) in his the popular “all quadrants, all levels” (AQAL) model (which addresses objects of knowing and corresponding ways of knowing that can focus on interior or exterior aspects of individuals or collectives). This spectrum of what might be known can be filled out and extended by adding sensations, perceptions, feelings, memories, meanings, symbolic appreciations, and other “qualia.”

However, these additions are not sufficiently bold. To be true to human experience, we should add more subtle qualities of things, others, and ourselves—characteristics that might be perceived not in more conventional ways, but through less familiar forms of inner knowing, direct knowing, intuition, and gnosis. Some of these would include subtle fields and subtle energies around or within objects, plants, animals, and persons; perceived “presences” of various sorts; experiential encounters with other realms or beings, with the Self, with the Divine, with the One.

The perceptions and knowings of the types of subtle qualities just mentioned can be treated in conventional science, psychology, and phenomenology simply as experiences, without confronting the issue of the ontological status of the objects or elicitors of the experiences. The question of the reality of these objects/elicitors receives much greater attention in parapsychology and psychical research, transpersonal psychology, mystical studies, and in the great wisdom and spiritual traditions. I propose that these objects or elicitors are just as “real” as are the more familiar objects of our experience, but that they partake of different forms of reality that usually are not available to our conventional senses in ordinary conditions of consciousness but can become available to faculties that are understood as unconscious or superconscious, in other states of consciousness. In the terminology of the three eyes of knowing, these objects and elicitors may not be “seen” by the eye of flesh, but may be seen by the eyes of the mind, of the heart, of the spirit. An even bolder suggestion would be that each object of knowing possesses its own form of consciousness with which the consciousness of the knower can connect and thus know directly, in an “internal” manner. Such a suggestion is consistent with Sri Aurobindo’s (1970, pp. 2, 234-237) view that consciousness and inherent intuition are present throughout existence—both above and below the human range, even in “inanimate” matter, where it may appear nonexistent—but variable in its status, condition, and operation.

Mentioning the three eyes raises the issue of matching the appropriate eye to the nature of what is to be seen. Ken Wilber (1990) has warned of the risk of category error, when one eye attempts “to usurp the roles of the other two” (p. 7). There would appear to be three positions with respect to this issue. First, one can contend that each eye (each mode of knowing) is adapted and specialized (prepared, adequate) for one set of “data” (objects, elicitors); each eye can see only in its own realm, and it makes no sense to expect one eye to look into the realm of another eye. Second, one can agree that each eye is optimized for a particular realm, but some seepage or crosstalk (generalization, transfer) can occur; one eye may, under special conditions, see imperfect glimpses, or glimpses of only certain aspects, of what usually is available only to another eye. Third, perhaps the eyes have different fields of view; some eyes may see only very narrowly (their own realms), whereas others might have much broader and deeper vision and might see all or nearly all of what might be seen (in all or nearly all realms).

In agreement with this first position, one might imagine a spectrum of modes of knowing perfectly aligned with a spectrum of knowables, with very narrow correspondences and limitations of what each mode is able to know. This is perhaps the most commonly accepted view of science and of disciplined inquiry. According to the second position, category errors could be defeated in that some features of some knowables could be available to all modes of knowing. Examples of this possibility are the empirical findings within the field of parapsychology (psi research) that the thoughts and intentions of one person may be associated with traces that can influence other persons or even physical measuring devices; other examples would be observations of certain parapsychological resemblances or analogs of mystical and revelatory experiences, or observations of brain activity patterns associated with forms of meditation, contemplation, and prayer. Here, it might be more accurate to speak of varieties, rather than spectra, of knowings and knowables, with various degrees of overlaps among them.

A more detailed example, which I presented elsewhere (Braud, 1994, p. 30), may further clarify the nature of this second position:

Imagine a three-dimensional cube constructed of twelve sticks, and imagine a light source projecting the shadow of this cube frame onto a two-dimensional sheet of paper. Viewed only as a two-dimensional projection, the cube has lost its third dimension, and its reality has been "stepped down." Imagine, further, that the light source begins to move and that the cube begins to move and to rotate. The cube's two-dimensional projection will change dramatically. If one is limited to a study of the two-dimensional surface, what one can say about the cube itself will be limited and necessarily incomplete. The constantly changing, and sometimes apparently contradictory, patterns of the projections may lead to confusion and seeming paradoxes about the source of these shadows. To attempt to draw final conclusions about the nature of the cube from any one shadow-pattern would be unwise. To build up a conception of the cube gradually, and by considering all of the projections and their possible interrelationships, would provide a truer picture of the cube's nature. Although each projection is incomplete, it is nonetheless true to a particular aspect of the cube. Invariant relationships of aspects of the cube in three-space will be reflected in similarly invariant relationships within the two-space shadow projections. The projections never tell us anything false about the cube. Their lessons are merely incomplete and relative.

In this cube-and-shadows example, the “eye” of the two-dimensional paper can capture at least certain aspects of the cube that would be available to an “eye” capable of seeing the cube, clearly and directly, in three-dimensional space.

According to the third position, a certain form of knowing might be able to access the essential qualities of all knowables. This would seem to be the contention of Sri Aurobindo, when he argues that knowledge by identity (Vedic knowledge) or by intuition can know all that is essential about the Many because of the underlying oneness shared by the knower and the multiple knowns. Relevant here are the Upaniṣadic avowal, "When That is known, all is known" (cited in Cornelissen, 2001, p. 8), as well as Aurobindo’s (1981) statement about knowing “the entire universe in one of its frontal appearances” (p. 30).

Another issue that arises in the context of the plurality of knowing modes and the manifold objects of knowing is the question of whether there might be hierarchies of efficacy, power, or quality for the various ways of knowing and of value, worth, or importance for the many objects of knowing. Such hierarchies (or holarchies) are implied by the spectrum conceptualization. Inequalities among forms of knowing and among what might be known are implied by Kurt Gödel’s and Gregory Chaitin’s theorems and theories that certain things are not knowable within a given system and that no system can explain any other system that is more complex than itself (Gödel, 1962; Nagel & Newman, 1958; Rucker, 1987), as well as by Huston Smith’s (1992, pp. 119, 151, 200) contention that a form of knowing might not be capable of understanding anything that is superior to itself in qualities of intelligence, awareness, compassion, value, or worth. These views suggest that there are certain things that we might never truly know.  However, this position might be countered by the understanding of tat tvam asi (that thou art)—that in an essential and profound manner we are all things and therefore are able to know all things, through a knowledge by identity.

Given these contextualizations of the ranges and limits of knowings and knowables, we are ready to move on to a consideration practical ways in which Yogic principles and techniques have been or might be introduced into research praxis.

Initial integrations of yogic principles and practices into research

In this section, I describe ways in which we already have begun introducing Yogic and related principles and practices into the forms of research conducted at our Institute.

The institute’s general atmosphere. Because of the Institute’s emphasis on transpersonal psychology, its general ambiance already is one that is favourable to the aims, values, and principles of Yoga and Indian Psychology. Most of our faculty and students already have backgrounds, interests, and experiences relevant to spirituality and to psychospiritual growth and transformation. In addition, the Institute’s pedagogy emphasizes experiential and whole-person teaching and learning, and this fits well with the general emphases of yoga. A subset of the faculty and students are engaged more specifically and actively in the spiritual and wisdom traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Advaita Vedānta, and various forms of yoga, per se, and these persons already are integrating yogic and yogic-like principles and practices into their lives and work, including their research endeavours. All of this provides a very hospitable context for the implementation of the ways of Indian Psychology into the research conducted at the Institute. However, the presence of this special conducive atmosphere, to the extent that it is not available elsewhere, suggests caution in generalizing what may or may not be possible or successful in other research contexts.

Inclusions in Integral Inquiry. The research approach of Integral Inquiry that I have been developing (Braud, 1994, 1998a, 1998b) includes several principles and practices that are directly or indirectly related to yoga and to Indian psychology more generally. The naming of this approach had nothing to do with the Integral Yoga and Integral Yoga Psychology of Sri Aurobindo (1948/2000) and The Mother, the integral structure of consciousness described by Jean Gebser (1949/1986), or the Integral Psychology of Ken Wilber (2000). However, the approach has considerable overlaps with these views. With Integral Yoga, the approach shares the aim of being as inclusive and integrative as possible, in both its epistemology and its ontology. The approach acknowledges the legitimacy of a great variety of ways of knowing (endorsing William James’ [1912/1976] radical empiricism) and levels of what is to be known (levels of reality).  The following are additional areas of overlap and correspondence between Integral Inquiry and the emphases of Integral Yoga and Indian psychology at large:

  • Emphasis on experience as disciplined inquiry’s primary subject matter
  • Research may be transformative for the researcher, the research participants, and the audience of a research report
  • Inclusion of bodily, emotional, aesthetic, and intellectual facets in research and as validity indicators
  • Recognition of the limitations of purely intellectual or exclusively sensory approaches to research
  • The importance of the processes of intention, attention, and intuition in research
  • The possibility of direct knowing and knowing through being or becoming what is to be known
  • Stressing the importance of the adequacy or preparedness of the researcher
  • Clearing and optimizing researcher-as-instrument through reduction of psychological impedance and sources of distraction, bias, and “noise”
  • Patañjali’s saṁyama as a way of knowing
  • Acknowledging the research-relevant contributions of many disciplines (natural sciences, social and human sciences, humanities, arts, spiritual and wisdom traditions)

Preparation of the researcher.  It is well-recognized that a researcher’s knowledge, skills, and characteristics are of the utmost importance in research. The researcher’s own qualities inform all aspects of a research project. These qualities help determine the subjects and topics to be investigated; how projects are framed; the nature of research hypotheses or questions; how research participants are treated; how data are collected, analyzed, and reported; and where and how one looks for inspiration and support throughout the research process. Researcher characteristics are especially important in qualitative research, in which the researcher is the major “instrument” in the research project, and in which all materials are collected, processed, and interpreted through the filters that are the researcher’s personal qualities. This aspect of research has been recognized in the qualitative approach of grounded theory in its treatment of theoretical sensitivity, in which the investigator’s prior familiarity with what is studied and her or his observational and interpretative experiences and skills help inform the theories that are being developed along with data interactions throughout a research project (Glaser, 1978). Investigator qualities also have been treated by Skolimowski (1994) in terms of the various sensitivities of the knower, and by Schumacher (1978) as the knower’s adaequatio (adequateness) with respect to that which is to be known. The essence of these and other related treatments is that a researcher can know only that for which his or her being has been adequately prepared. Some of this preparation may be influenced by preexisting dispositions (perhaps genetically or karmically-informed), and other aspects may be developed through appropriate training. The important role that Yoga might play in such training has been expressed well by Cornelissen (2001, p. 11):

To make this possible, a considerable purification of one’s inner instrument, or antahkarana is essential. The different yogic traditions thus all have their methods to improve the range, the "resolution" and the reliability of inner perception. These techniques can be grouped into those that aim at greater concentration, at freedom from the sense-mind leading to an ability to penetrate the deeper and higher layers of consciousness, and at freedom from partial identifications, that is from the body, from the vital drives and emotions, from one’s thoughts and finally from the ego-sense. These techniques are within their tradition considered to lead to a free consciousness, capable of watching the movements of Prakriti, nature, as a completely independent witness, making it possible to observe inner events not only with a greater precision but also with a perfect "objectivity" and thus reliability. The inner disciplines of Yoga can thus play exactly the same role for a science of the inner realities as modern technology is playing for the material sciences.

Although, in this comment, Cornelissen was addressing the use of Yogic preparation in developing more accurate introspection, in refining the observation of inner experience, the same techniques can be applied in preparing and purifying the researcher’s antaḥkaraṇa (internal organ of knowing) for a deeper, more accurate, and more satisfying study of any object of inquiry. This purification process can allow the researcher to reduce various distractions and biases that might distort what is to be known. This is similar to, but much more profound than, the role played by the so-called bracketing process in phenomenological research (see Polkinghorne, 1989), in which one attempts to set aside preconceptions and pre-understandings of what is studied. The Yogic preparation and purification is more profound in that it addresses a much wider and deeper range of possible distractors or impediments to knowing that can exist not only at the cognitive level, but at sensory, bodily, emotional, and more subtle levels, as well. Besides reducing possibly interfering “noise” or distractions, these same preparatory and purifying techniques—in the form, for example, of practicing the eight limbs of Patañjali’s Aṣtāṅgayoga—can help the researcher adjust his or her very being in ways that can allow more direct forms of knowing the object of research (i.e., forms of knowing through being or becoming what is to be known).

At our Institute, Olga Louchakova (2005) has been developing a training program for enhancing the researcher’s preparedness, “fitness” (adaequatio), “clear mind” or “clear internal instrument” (antaḥkaraṇa śuddhi), and capacity for “knowledge by presence,” based on principles and practices from the traditions of Vedānta, Śākta-Vedānta, Sufism, and Hesychasm (the early mystical tradition within Christianity).

This researcher training was intended to develop the following qualities, as understood in the Indian and related traditions, and as summarized in Louchakova’s report (2005, paraphrased from p. 98):

  • Discrimination (viveka)—the capacity of discernment of real and unreal, that is, between cognitions of constant and changing elements of the mind, and eventually between pure awareness and phenomenal awareness
  • Dispassion (vairāgya)—due to cessation of resolved or satisfied desires, as a precondition for knowledge of the Self, to be followed by control of the mind and senses, cessation of social activity, control of passions and endurance, settling down to reflect on the nature of consciousness, and faith
  • Passionate desire for liberation (mumukṣutvam)
  • Qualities of humility, modesty, nonviolence, endurance, simplicity, purity, persistence, and self-control (from the Śākta-Vedānta tradition)
  • Removal of the “veils” of the mind, in its natural condition, through persistence in study, contemplation, spiritual discipline and exercise, in the quest to develop a “mind of the heart,” that is, direct intuition, rather than knowledge via logical processes (from the Sufism tradition)
  • Purifying the heart through watchfulness, curtailing passions, resisting temptation to the external senses, and developing detachment, mindfulness, and inwardly deployed attention (from the Hesychasm tradition)

Developing the qualities noted above can help correct mental and character structures and processes that ordinarily interfere with the clarity of direct perception and direct knowing.

The actual training exercises involved practice of mindfulness in identifying, recognizing, and naming forms of internal awareness (sensing, feeling, imagining, and thinking); reflecting on the type of research paradigm (e.g., positivism/postpositivism, critical theory, constructivism) that best fitted the researcher’s project and aims; and developing knowledge through presence (developing “mind of the heart”) through a technique of focused introspection on the sense of self, localizing awareness in the inner space of the (right side of the) chest.

Louchakova (2005, pp. 106-107) described outcomes of the training as follows:

Starting from the sense of self, predominantly identified on the right side of the chest, students described the layers of introspective experiences as emerging in the following succession: (a) sense of personal self of the right side of the chest; (b) sensory experiences; (c) layer of rising emotions, subtler sensations of energy, and breath; (d) layer of “talking” mind; (e) layer of images; (f) stillness, nothing, unknowing, like in a deep sleep. This layer, (f), of stillness and the following layer, (g), layer of sheer intellect, meanings, and vast space and subtle mental states, archetypes, and essential relations—commonly interpenetrated each other. Finally, it was possible that an eighth layer was reached: (h) absorption of awareness in pure subjective consciousness. . .  Students, in the course of the training, learn to differentiate between the various manifestations of consciousness. . . . This direct knowledge of the structures of the psyche provides a very tangible help in learning the skills of phenomenological analysis, by correlating the maxims of phenomenology and one’s own inner experience. Phenomenology stops being perceived as an abstract philosophical system and becomes a practical guide to self-understanding and interior transformation. Students find internal correspondents to different phenomenological terms, such as intentionality, and learn to discern the hierarchies of meaning and relationship between signifiers and the signified. . .   On a personal level, they report a decrease of impatience and anxiety and an increase of self-acceptance and self-appreciation. Students report the shifts in their sense of identity and attitudes toward the world.

The exercises mentioned above focused upon the preparation of the researcher for phenomenological research; however, their use may be generalized to other forms of qualitative research and, indeed, to research in general. Like these exercises, the practice of the eight limbs of Patañjali yoga and of the integral research skills described below also can foster a greater preparedness and adequacy of the researcher.

Integral research skills. “Integral Research Skills” is the name of the first in a sequence of research courses offered at the Institute. We have placed this course first because it provides a very accessible introduction to research. In this course, students learn how personal and spiritual practices can be translated into skills that can be used in the service of research. The skills can play three roles in research: They can help increase the sensitivities and preparedness of the researcher, they can provide vehicles for multiple modalities of knowing, and they can allow access to a greater range of what might be known in any research project. The skills are relevant to Indian Psychology and to Yoga in that they can help researchers experience more expanded aspects of themselves and of their potentials, they can help establish preconditions for direct knowing, and some of them closely resemble actual yogic techniques. The skills are called integral research skills because when used together they can help provide a complete and integrated (integral) appreciation of the topic being studied.

Table 1, below, indicates the skills covered in this course, along with brief descriptions of how each skill is practiced and used.

Table 1
Integral research skills and how they are practiced and used

The Skills

Their description, practice, and use

Working with intention

Awareness of, and deliberate framing of, intentions for all phases of a research project

Quieting and slowing

Sets stage for use of other skills, relaxes and quiets, reduces distractions and “noise” at many levels, reduces structures and constraints, allows change, allows fuller observations and appreciation of more subtle aspects of what is studied


Fosters curiosity, creativity, and insight; encourages beginner’s mind; provides novelty, new combinations; encourages excitement, enthusiasm, exploration

Working with attention

Practice in deploying, focusing, and shifting attention; deautomatizing attention; attending to different forms and channels of information; changing focal plane or magnification of attention; developing witnessing consciousness

Auditory skills

Practice in devoting more complete attention to external and internal sounds and to sound memories and sound imagination

Visual skills, imagery, visualization, imagination

Practice in devote more complete attention to outer and inner sights and images; use of memory images, visualization, spontaneous and guided imagery; active imagination; empowered imagination

Kinesthetic skills

Practice in knowing, remembering, and expressing knowing and being through gross and subtle movements

Proprioceptive skills

Practice in identifying and attending to subtle visceral and muscular sensations; working with felt senses, feelings, affective knowing

Direct knowing, intuition, empathic identification

Identifying with the object of knowing; knowing through presence, empathy, sympathy, compassion, love, being, becoming, participation; sympathetic resonance; empathic identification; parapsychological processes

Accessing unconscious processes and materials

Reducing egoic control; tacit knowing; liminal and transitional conditions; incubation; attention to vehicles that carry previously unconscious information; identifying unconscious tendencies


Being present in time, capacity to identify and disidentify appropriately, self-awareness, skills of self-observation


Mature judgment, integrity, capacity to know the sources and natures of events that arise in consciousness


Empathy, service, personal presence, caring and love for others, understanding the feelings and experiences of others

Appreciation of differences

Openness to new information, assumptions, and other ways of being, knowing, and doing; openness to change; flexibility, inclusiveness, and tolerance; honouring of differences and others

Students identify and practice these skills through experiential exercises presented by the course instructor. They then indicate how they might use the skills, in themselves—as researchers—in the three major phases of any quantitative or qualitative research project (planning and collecting data, working with data, presenting data). They also are encouraged to introduce the skills more fully into their professional work and into their lives, in the service of their personal growth and development.

In addition to working with these skills, themselves, as researchers, students are encouraged to consider ways in which they might request the research participants in their future studies to use similar skills—for purposes of remembering, reliving, and communicating past or present experiences to the researcher, in ways that might be more complete, detailed, and accurate than what might be possible without the use of such techniques. Also, students are asked to consider how they might ask the audiences/readers of their research reports to use similar skills, in order to more fully receive the findings that are being presented to them.

Some of the integral research skills mentioned above are closely related to principles and practices of Indian Psychology and, especially, to certain of the eight limbs of Patañjali yoga. None of the skills are closely related to the first two limbs yama (restraints) and niyama (observances). Quieting and slowing are somewhat related to the third and fourth limbs of āsana (postures) and prāṇāyāma (vital energy/breath control). The auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and proprioceptive skills, to the extent that these involve shifts away from the outer world and toward inner experience, are somewhat aligned with the fifth limb of pratyāhāra (sensory withdrawal). The skills of attention, direct knowing, intuition, empathic identification—and, to some extent, slowing and quieting as well—share certain features with the sixth, seventh, and eighth limbs of dhāranā (concentration), dhyāna (meditation), and samādhi (absorption). Direct knowing itself, as a form of knowing through being or becoming or by identity, is related most closely to the intensive and conjoint practice of dhāranā, dhyāna, and samādhi, treated as saṁyama in the Yoga-Sūtras of Patañjali. The skill of playing, of course, resonates with the Hindu concept of līlā, cosmic play.

Yogic principles and practices in psi research. The important roles that Indian thought and Yogic principles and practices have played in psi research (the scientific and scholarly study of paranormal processes of telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis, and related phenomena) have been treated extensively elsewhere (e.g., Braud, 2006b; Rammohan, 2002; Rao, 2002). Yogic applications in psi research have emphasized both theory (e.g., the relevance of the guṇas and the siddhis) and technique (particularly the relevance of some of the limbs of Patañjali Aṣtāṅgayoga for the somatic and psychological preparation of research participants in psi experiments). I present here only a summary, in tabular form, of how researchers have used practices related to those of several of the limbs of Aṣtāṅgayoga in conducting experiments and exploring relationships in various areas of psi research. Table 2 is organized simply to indicate concentrations and patterns of research—four clusters of research areas that correspond to four clusters of yogic techniques—rather than precise one-to-one correspondences; it is recognized that the various yogic practices are interrelated, as are the processes at work in the various psi research areas. The reader is referred to Braud (2006b) for detailed treatments of this material. It may be of interest to note that virtually all of these applications have been in psi research projects that have been carried out in a quantitative research fashion.

Table 2

Areas of psi research and corresponding “limbs” of yogic practice

Psi Research Areas

Yogic Practices



Yama (restraints)

Niyama (observances)

Relaxation research

Hypnosis research

Physiological research

Āsana (postures)

Prāṇāyāma (vital energy/breath control)

Dream telepathy research

Ganzfeld research

Pratyāhāra (sensory withdrawal)

Concentration/visualization in receptive psi

Concentration/visualization in active psi

Meditation research

Absorption research

Dhāranā (concentration)

Dhyāna (meditation)

Samādhi (absorption)

The use of techniques similar to the yogic practices in experimental psi research not only indicates the relevance of the Indian practices to research, but to the extent that their practice is associated with accurate psi functioning in the experiments, the experiment outcomes provide empirical support for the existence of the siddhi-like processes that are believed, in Indian thought, to be associated with the extensive practice of the yogic techniques in more natural settings. These empirical confirmations of certain yogic claims increase the possibility that future research will support the validity of other yogic epistemological and ontological claims as well.

Further possibilities

The foregoing section outlined the beginnings of attempts to introduce yogic principles and practices into quantitative and (especially) qualitative research. I foresee several ways in which such introductions and integrations might be increased in the future:

  • Practices associated with each of the limbs of Aṣtāṅgayoga could be introduced more fully and more formally into research praxis. Presently, practices associated with the first two limbs—yama (restraints) and niyama (observances)—are conspicuously absent. The relevance of these two limbs not only to research dealing with psychospiritual topics but to research at large would seem to be an especially fruitful arena for future exploration. The practice of these two limbs should be especially useful for enhancing the preparedness (adequacy) of the researcher.
  • In order to introduce forms of inner knowing (direct knowing, knowledge by identity, intuition) into research, ways of training and development of these forms can be investigated more fully. An obvious first approach to developing direct knowing is the practice of the eight limbs of Aṣtāṅgayoga.
  • Several practices that might facilitate the development of intuition have been identified. Salmon (2001) has described a number of these: making ourselves more receptive to intuitional knowing; working with symbolism, metaphors, and dreams; attending more fully to conscience or “ethical intuition”; preparing ourselves for intuitive knowing by learning more effective ways of quieting the mind, emotions, and body; and by practicing detachment and honesty. These could be pursued personally, as well as in formal research contexts.
  • Salmon (2001, pp. 33-34) suggests that intuition might be developed by engaging in analytic meditation:
  • Analytic meditation . . . involves an alternation between purely discursive reasoning and stable, one-pointed concentration on intuitive realizations as they arise. One takes an idea or theme, such as the impermanence of all things that can be perceived or conceived. One then engages in careful intellectual reasoning, and calls up images and memories from personal experience, bringing the central theme to mind with great vividness, clarity and aliveness. When this process is pursued with sufficient concentration, there will come moments in which a sudden inspiration flashes into the mind. It is essential to remain attuned to the possibility of the emergence of these intuitive moments, as they may easily pass unrecognized. When such a moment arises, active thought should be temporarily suspended, and all one's concentration focused with great energy on the intuition—not manipulating it, simply just focusing on it—no matter how vague it may at first appear. Over the course of time, if this practice is followed with diligence, a change may gradually occur in which the discursive reasoning takes on a more intuitive and global quality, while the intuitions that emerge gain in acuteness of perception and discernment.

  • Mentioning “intuitive and global quality” calls to mind a fascinating and potentially powerful research tool—the projective differential, developed by Peter Raynolds (1997). The projective differential (PD) is a standardized, holistic and intuitive procedure that can be used to qualitatively and quantitatively assess a person’s salient integration of cognitive and affective reactions to a particular topic that is being assessed. The PD uses choice responses to very briefly presented pairs of carefully designed, abstract images in order to register holistic, intuitive, affective (nonverbal, “unconscious”) reactions, preferences, and attitudes. It has features similar to those of the more familiar semantic differential (Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1957). It resembles a tachistoscopic Rorschach presentation. The rapid and projective nature of the procedure serves to minimize deliberate, conscious distortions, and, therefore, the PD results may have greater validity than do many deliberate, verbal assessments. The PD procedures also include built-in indicators of the discrepancy or incongruence between its own novel (imagistic, intuitive, affective) measures and more traditional (verbal, consciously and deliberately considered) measures. I recommend the PD as a very specific way in which to study a form of intuitive knowing and its accompaniments and outcomes in formal research settings.
  • Future researchers may profitably explore methods described by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother (1956), in writings on education, for developing and refining the major mental faculties. In his section of that book, Aurobindo described these functions as the four layers of the inner instrument (antaḥkaraṇa): basic mental consciousness and memory (citta); sense-mind (manas); intelligence (buddhi); supermind (vijñāna). In the context of these functions, he addressed simultaneous and successive teaching methods and suggested ways of removing obstacles and obstructions to knowing and ways of training the accuracy and sensitivity of the senses, the mental faculties generally, and the logical faculty specifically.  He also addressed the imagination as a most important and indispensable instrument, and its proper exercise as being as important as the training of the faculties that observe and compare outward things. Many of the methods and procedures described in a previous section of this paper, on Integral Research Skills, are very closely aligned with Aurobindo’s suggestions for useful educational training.
  • The approach of Insight Dialogue, developed by Greg Kramer and Terri O’Fallon could be explored as a way not only of accessing inner knowing but also of communicating that knowing with someone else. The approach was described by Salmon (2001, p. 24) as follows:
  • Greg Kramer . . . in collaboration with Terri O'Fallon, has developed a meditative practice he calls "Insight Dialogue." In its simplest terms, the practice involves meditating while engaged in interpersonal interaction; in other words, speaking while meditating. . . . Kramer developed a research methodology which applies this practice to scientific research. The methodology has each individual, on their own, attempt first to enter into a meditative state of deep tranquillity and equanimity. From this state, they each engage in a process of intellectual and intuitive exploration regarding an inner object of study such as a particular mind state, feeling, pattern of sensations, sequence of ideas, memory, worldview, etc. After a period of individual investigation, they would come together. Engaging in an insight dialogue session, they would communicate—while remaining in a state of tranquillity and equanimity, always mindful of and receptive to flashes of intuitive knowing—the results of their respective investigations, inquiring more deeply of each other, checking for biases, unquestioned assumptions, etc. Perhaps other such approaches will evolve in coming years.

This dialogic inquiry approach is described in detail in an unusual joint dissertation by Kramer and O’Fallon (1998).

  • The dialogic inquiry approach could be extended to develop ways of sharing one’s inner knowing with others, in a manner that might help establish the validity and reliability of such knowledge. This would be a step in the direction of what Charles Tart (1976) has advocated as “state specific science.”
  • Forms of paranormal knowing (telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition) might be introduced more fully into the research enterprise, not only as objects of study but as techniques to be used in the actual conduct of research. In the Integral Research Skills course mentioned earlier, we already include some of these techniques in the context of the direct knowing, intuition, and empathic identification skills.
  • In connection with paranormal knowing, the use of exercises related to Aṣtāṅgayoga, mentioned in Table 2 above, could be extended from quantitative studies, in which they typically have been used, to qualitative investigations of psi.
  • At our Institute, Rosemarie Anderson (2004) has been developing a research approach, Intuitive Inquiry, that substantially honours intuition as a research tool. She has identified five modes of intuition: unconscious processes, psychic or parapsychological experiences, sensory modes of intuition, empathetic identification, and through our wounds, along with a blended form of these modes. Although only some of these modes closely resemble intuition as it is considered in the present paper, a greater emphasis on the modes described by Anderson, along with greater practice of ways of fostering those respective modes, may be helpful in establishing some of the preconditions necessary for the emergence of the more direct, knowing-by-identity, form of intuition discussed here.
  • Typically, one attempts to express one’s inner knowing through linear prose. Alternative means could be tried—e.g., poetry, artwork, movement, and various nonlinear, nonverbal means—and these might be able to communicate sympathetic understandings to others that are not possible via linear prose. Anderson (2001) has taken steps in this direction through developing what she calls embodied writing, in which one attempts to “presence” an inner experience while writing, in order to invite the same experience in a reader, through sympathetic resonance. The practices mentioned here—which one usually thinks of only in connection with the fine arts and the humanities—could be introduced more fully into research and disciplined inquiry in order to communicate one’s findings more effectively to the audience of one’s work. In India, there is a long tradition of using poetry to express inner knowing, as in the Vedas, in the Upaniṣads, and in various forms of mystical poetry.

Additional considerations

In the foregoing sections, I presented some of the ways in which specific aspects of yogic practices and principles and some aspects of Indian psychology already have been applied, or might be applied, in the context of research praxis. Along with such applications there arise a number of issues that merit additional consideration. One of these is that care is needed when certain practices developed in one culture are applied in other cultures. The success of such applications may vary widely, depending on the nature of the prior and new contexts and whether the practices are applied in unchanged or in modified forms. This issue may be addressed by paying careful attention to the contexts of origination and application and to how the practices are framed and presented to the new users, along with careful monitoring of the accompaniments and outcomes of the applications.

Another issue relates to how and how much of the principles and practices of one tradition might be wisely applied in another tradition. Salmon (2001) has highlighted the dangers of picking and choosing only selected aspects from a complex and well-integrated Indian tradition, with the resultant risks of dilutions and distortions. He urged taking Indian psychology seriously—honouring its own understandings, rather than filtering those understandings through other interpretative lenses. As examples of such filtering, he indicated how certain aspects of Indian thought and teachings might be variously interpreted through phenomenological, historical, psychoanalytic, neuroscientific, and postmodernist lenses. In applying yogic principles and practices to research, it is important to be alert to the possible losses or distortions that might result through gross or subtle—perhaps even “unconscious”—framing of the borrowed or translated techniques, influenced by the predispositions of the borrowers. One may address these risks by attempting to deepen one’s understanding of the source and nature of what is borrowed as much as possible and by attending as fully as possible to the application itself and to its side effects and outcomes.

In the Indian and yogic traditions, in which the principles and practices treated in this paper have their home, the overarching emphasis is on the psychospiritual growth, development, and transformation of the practitioner. In applying the various techniques to research, in other contexts, it is important that attention be paid not only to how those techniques might facilitate the knowledge gain of the discipline, but also to how well the borrowed or bridging techniques might foster the wisdom, spiritual growth, and transformative change of the researcher, the research participants, the intended receivers of the research findings, and society and culture at large.

In this vein, I’ll end this paper with a short quotation from the conclusion of a previous paper (Braud, 2006b, p. 22):

Prior uses of yoga-related processes in psi research might be likened to stealing jewels from temples. A deeper appreciation of these processes might foster a realization of the purposes for which the temples were constructed in the first place.


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