Sri Aurobindo on Intuition Beyond the Right Hemisphere

  • Sri Aurobindo on Intuition Beyond the Right Hemisphere

    Posted by Don Salmon on April 15, 2023 at 1:24 pm

    This isn’t specifically a “contemplative practice.” However, it’s so fundamental, in my understanding, as a basis for practice, I thought it worth including here. This is from “The Synthesis of Yoga,” by Sri Aurobindo. Aurobindo was the leader of the Indian independence movement in the early 1900s, before Gandhi took over. He left politics in 1910 to dedicate his life to contemplative practices. He wrote most of his work between 1914 and 1921 – 6000 pages, 64 pages a month, writing about 7 books at the same time. The Synthesis of Yoga is his main work on the practice of what came to be called “Purna Advaita,” or “Integral Yoga.”


    By the understanding we mean that which at once perceives, judges and discriminates, the true reason of the human being not subservient to the senses, to desire or to the blind force of habit, but working in its own right for mastery, for knowledge.

    Certainly, the reason of man as he is at present does not even at its best act entirely in this free and sovereign fashion; but so far as it fails, it fails because it is still mixed with the lower half-animal action, because it is impure and constantly hampered and pulled down from its characteristic action.

    In its purity it should not be involved in these lower movements, but stand back from the object, and observe disinterestedly, put it in its right place in the whole by force of comparison, contrast, analogy, reason from its rightly observed data by deduction, induction, inference and holding all its gains in memory and supplementing them by a chastened and rightly-guided imagination view all in the light of a trained and disciplined judgment.

    Such is the pure intellectual understanding of which disinterested observation, judgment and reasoning are the law and characterising action. But the term buddhi is also used in another and profounder sense.

    The intellectual understanding is only the lower buddhi; there is another and a higher buddhi which is not intelligence but vision, is not understanding but rather an over-standing1 in knowledge, and does not seek knowledge and attain it in subjection to the data it observes but possesses already the truth and brings it out in the terms of a revelatory and intuitional thought.

    The nearest the human mind usually gets to this truth-conscious knowledge is that imperfect action of illumined finding which occurs when there is a great stress of thought and the intellect electrified by constant discharges from behind the veil and yielding to a higher enthusiasm admits a considerable instreaming from the intuitive and inspired faculty of knowledge. For there is an intuitive mind in man which serves as a recipient and channel for these instreamings from a supramental faculty.

    But the action of intuition and inspiration in us is imperfect in kind as well as intermittent in action; ordinarily, it comes in response to a claim from the labouring and struggling heart or intellect and, even before its givings enter the conscious mind, they are already affected by the thought or aspiration which went up to meet them, are no longer pure but altered to the needs of the heart or intellect; and after they enter the conscious mind, they are immediately seized upon by the intellectual understanding and dissipated or broken up so as to fit in with our imperfect intellectual knowledge, or by the heart and remoulded to suit our blind or half-blind emotional longings and preferences, or even by the lower cravings and distorted to the vehement uses of our hungers and passions.

    If this higher buddhi could act pure of the interference of these lower members, it would give pure forms of the truth; observation would be dominated or replaced by a vision which could see without subservient dependence on the testimony of the sense-mind and senses;

    imagination would give place to the self-assured inspiration of the truth, reasoning to the spontaneous discernment of relations and conclusion from reasoning to an intuition containing in itself those relations and not building laboriously upon them, judgment to a thought-vision in whose light the truth would stand revealed without the mask which it now wears and which our intellectual judgment has to penetrate;

    while memory too would take upon itself that larger sense given to it in Greek thought and be no longer a paltry selection from the store gained by the individual in his present life, but rather the all-recording knowledge which secretly holds and constantly gives from itself everything that we now seem painfully to acquire but really in this sense remember, a knowledge which includes the future no less than the past.

    Certainly, we are intended to grow in our receptivity to this higher faculty of truth-conscious knowledge, but its full and unveiled use is as yet the privilege of the gods and beyond our present human stature.

    Don Salmon replied 1 year, 1 month ago 2 Members · 3 Replies
  • 3 Replies
  • Don Salmon

    April 15, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    This is a description of contemplative awakening that comes later in The Synthesis of Yoga. It may be helpful in that it describers a realization that is common to contemplative traditions the world over, even though using English and Indian terms. It also gives a practice.


    This realisation of all things as God or Brahman has, as we have seen, three aspects of which we can conveniently make three successive stages of experience.

    First, there is the Self in whom all beings exist. The Spirit, the Divine has manifested itself as infinite self-extended being, self-existent, pure, not subject to Time and Space, but supporting Time and Space as figures of its consciousness. It is more than all things and contains them all within that self-extended being and consciousness, not bound by anything that it creates, holds or becomes, but free and infinite and all-blissful. It holds them, in the old image, as the infinite ether contains in itself all objects.

    NOTE: THIS PRACTICE IS VERY SIMILAR TO THOSE GIVEN IN THE JAPANESE, CHINESE AND TIBETAN BUDDHIST TRADITIONS, AS WELL AS MANY PRACTICES IN THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN TRADITION GOING BACK AT LEAST TO THE 3RD CENTURY DESERT FATHERS: This image of the ethereal (Akasha) Brahman may indeed be of great practical help to the sadhaka who finds a difficulty in meditating on what seems to him at first an abstract and unseizable idea. In the image of the ether, not physical but an encompassing ether of vast being, consciousness and bliss, he may seek to see with the mind and to feel in his mental being this supreme existence and to identify it in oneness with the self within him. By such meditation the mind may be brought to a favourable state of predisposition in which, by the rending or withdrawing of the veil, the supramental vision may flood the mentality and change entirely all our seeing. And upon that change of seeing, as it becomes more and more potent and insistent and occupies all our consciousness, there will supervene eventually a change of becoming so that what we see we become.

    We shall be in our self-consciousness not so much cosmic as ultra-cosmic, infinite. Mind and life and body will then be only movements in that infinity which we have become, and we shall see that what exists is not world at all but simply this infinity of spirit in which move the mighty cosmic harmonies of its own images of self-conscious becoming.

  • Lucy Fleetwood

    April 17, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Don, thank you for sharing this. I’m a little out of my depth, can you suggest how best to put this into practice?

    • Don Salmon

      April 17, 2023 at 1:39 pm

      I wish I could just put a heart as big as the cosmos here.

      Sri Aurobindo uses BIG words. You don’t need to think at all about what he says. Just feel it>)

      Does that sound just absurdly New Age? Sorry. Let me try again.

      You wrote in another comment that you like the question, “What is looking out of my eyes?”

      In part of the passage I quoted, he talks about the ancient practice of imagining Brahman as a vast (non physical) space that encompasses all of our experience.

      In MUCH simpler language, Loch Kelly (who went to Nepal to study Tibetan Buddhism, by the way – Mahamudra and Dzogchen) he has a very nice sequence similar to your question.

      Can you be aware of space (the spacious awareness “surrounding” us)

      Now, can you be aware FROM space?

      Now, can you be aware AS space?

      So you feel that vast spaciousness looking through your eyes – you’re aware OF it.

      Then you shift – and you’re aware from that spaciousness – you’re aware “FROM” that which is looking through your eyes.

      Then a still more profound shift – you ARE that which is looking through your eyes.


      You know, the reason I created this group and am posting these is, so far, in another McGilchrist zoom group, in these website groups and even in those zoom conversations with Iain, I haven’t found anyone interested in connecting his work with practice. I’d so love it if you could bring your Ayurvedic/Tibetan Buddhist perspective to these conversations. I love your newsletters, by the way (I subscribed).

      Maybe a “recipe” with ghee and cumin and some other spices that we can make while opening our hearts and minds to that vast, luminous, “delicious” Presence.

      In fact, maybe an Ayurvedic cooking group here on this channel that connects with what McGilchrist has written. So many approach Ayurvedic with a kind of literal, analytic, LH approach – how interesting it would be to counter that!!

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