Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Sri Aurobindo and Transpersonal Psychology

Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Sri Aurobindo and Transpersonal Psychology

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This article provides an overview of Sri Aurobindo's psychological thought and system of Integral Yoga Psychology (IYP). Relevant biographical and historical background is introduced, and his influence on the development of transpersonal psychology reviewed. Using Sri Aurobindo's cosmology of consciousness as a framework for transpersonal experience, IYP's model of planes of consciousness and parts of the being is explained and illustrated with quotations from Sri Aurobindo's writings. Emphasis is placed on the psychic being (soul) and overhead planes of consciousness, as these are central to IYP's psycho-spiritual method of transforming the ego. Finally, implications for transpersonal development and transpersonal therapy are formulated, and some clinical applications given.


Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), the noted Indian spiritual teacher, is a seminal thinker whose writings have immense value for transpersonal psychology. In addition to interpreting the "perennial philosophy" to the West in an experientially authoritative and intellectually accurate fashion, he also made original contributions to transpersonal psychology. While several important transpersonal thinkers have been influenced by Sri Aurobindo's work (including Murphy, Wilber, Cortright, and others), this journal has never undertaken a comprehensive presentation of his psychological system. The purpose of this essay, therefore, is to explain Sri Aurobindo's contributions to transpersonal psychology and provide readers with an overview to use in approaching his complex writings directly. Due to limited space, this article will be more theoretical than clinical, although clinical applications will be indicated in several places.

Biographical and Historical Background

Born Aurobindo Ghose in Calcutta, on August 15, 1872, Aurobindo was educated in England and graduated at the top of his class at Cambridge, where he studied classics and imbibed both Christianity and the paradigm of Western rationalism. Aurobindo returned to his homeland in the 1890s with the aim of fostering Indian nationalism, and as a young man helped lead the first movement for Indian independence, which was put down by the British and later resuscitated by Gandhi. In 1910, after serving a yearlong prison sentence for sedition, Aurobindo moved to Pondicherry, then in the French territory of India, where he dedicated the rest of his life to his spiritual practice and teaching.

By the early 1920s, Aurobindo had gained recognition in India as an accomplished yogi, prompting the appellation of "Sri" Aurobindo (Sri is a Sanskrit term of respect given to important spiritual figures). In 1926, he founded the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a small spiritual community, in conjunction with Mirra Alfassa (1878-1973), his French collaborator and co-teacher. Within the Ashram, Alfassa came to be called "the Mother," in accordance with how female spiritual figures are honored in India. As the Mother, she administered all of the daily functions of the Ashram and personally guided residents in their sadhana (spiritual discipline). Sri Aurobindo always considered the Mother to be his spiritual peer, and contrary to some popular misconceptions, they were never married and had no romantic liaison. At the end of her life, the Mother also founded Auroville (located a few miles north of Pondicherry), an international community that seeks to evolve a new spiritually and materially sustainable lifestyle for the 21st millennium.

By the time of Sri Aurobindo's passing in 1950, his reputation had grown international. Pearl Buck and others nominated him for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1950, and many think he would have won it had he lived. Since his passing, India has made stamps and coins in Sri Aurobindo's honor, schoolbooks remember him as a founding father of the Indian nation, his bust sits permanently in the Indian Parliament, and he has become recognized as one of the leading Indian spiritual figures of the 20th century (see Heehs, 1989, for biographical details). …

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