Chapter 1 of The Synthesis of Yoga: Life and Yoga: A Summary

by Balvinder Banga

The search for ever greater harmony, in all its facets, is an abiding theme in Sri Aurobindo’s works.  He addressed it in the opening pages of The Life Divine: “For all problems of existence are essentially problems of harmony. They arise from the perception of an unsolved discord and the instinct of an undiscovered agreement or unity.[1]” He pursued it in various books, including The Ideal of Human Unity. There he explored how that instinct for an undiscovered unity could be manifested in the outer world, between brother and brother. It was the inner aspect of this equation, of how the instinct for an undiscovered unity could flower in man’s inner life, that Sri Aurobindo addressed in The Synthesis of Yoga (Synthesis).

In the opening paragraph of Synthesis He spoke of how “greater forms of human activity” tend “towards a harmonised complexity and totality which again breaks apart into various channels of special effort and tendency, only to unite once more in a larger and more puissant synthesis[2].” This points to simple a truth: When activities – and truths – become complex, man has a tendency to break them down into manageable fragments. Fragmentary understandings, however, can never be an end goal. That is why there is in man the constant search for that “larger and more puissant synthesis,” that greater harmony. While the focus in Synthesis was on yoga (those activities which may superficially appear to us “high and divine”) this essential need to synthesise, to harmonise, what we are and what we do, applies to all life.

Before the harmony, however, comes the dissolution. “The world today presents the aspects of a huge cauldron of Medea in which all things are being cast, shredded into pieces, experimented on, combined and recombined either to perish and provide the scattered material of new forms or to emerge rejuvenated and changed for a fresh term of existence.[3]”  The allusion to Medea is pertinent. It points to a level of brutality and inevitability about the nature of a dissolution where everything must take its chance “for a fresh term of existence” – if it can.  Naturally, this process of shredding and (hopefully) rejuvenation applies also to Yoga[4].  Yoga may have the capacity to play an important part in the future life of humanity, but it too must rejuvenate itself. It must “bring to the surface the profoundest reason of its being…[5]” Only then, in the wider synthesis of its truth, can it adopt its rightful place in life. Only then can it lead man to the inevitable conclusion that, in Sri Aurobindo’s immortal words, “All life is yoga.” By this He meant that everything was a “vast yoga of nature” attempting, consciously or otherwise, stumbling or otherwise, to realise perfection.   

Within this “vast yoga of nature”, man is special. He is the thinker, the self conscious vehicle. With man, the effort to perfection can be swiftly attained because man can choose: He can choose to work consciously for his own perfection. No creature before him could do that. In Earth’s history, he has no precedent.

Swami Vivekanada spoke of yoga as a means of compressing man’s evolution into the matter of a life, a few years, or even months[6]. To harness the power and processes of yoga to this evolutionary end is the sole basis for any synthesis of yoga. In doing so, we must never forget that “the preoccupation with yogic processes and their exceptional results may have its disadvantages and losses.[7]” Most obviously, we see in the yogin cracks between the outer and inner life. It is as if the purchase of his “inner freedom” comes at the price of his “outer death”. “ If he gains God, he loses life, or if he turns his efforts his efforts outward to conquer life, he is danger of losing God[8]”.  It is the danger that traditionally led to the tendency to asceticism and the rejection of life. This solution could not be permanent. A seeming chasm between God and Life could never found any satisfying synthesis of yoga. Nor does it. For in this, the opening chapter of Synthesis, Sri Aurobindo points to the essential aim of a synthesis. That aim is nothing less than “to reunite God and Nature in a liberated and perfected human life…[9]”  

Man is a symbol. He is here to manifest a unique possibility, to show “it is possible for the lower to transfigure itself and put on the nature of the higher and the higher to reveal itself in the forms of the lower”[10]. Yoga, and its methods can only be said to be fully utilised when they lend themselves to this endeavour, when they permit us to look both at its path and achievement, and say “in a perfect and luminous sense: ‘All Life is yoga[11]”.

[1] The Life Divine, page 4

[2] Synthesis, Page 5.

[3] Synthesis, Page 5.

[4] By which Sri Aurobindo means “a methodized effort towards self perfection by the expression of the secret potentialities latent in the being…” Synthesis, page 6.

[5] Synthesis, Page 6

[6] Synthesis, page 6

[7] Synthesis, page 7

[8] Synthesis, page 8

[9] Synthesis, page 8

[10] Synthesis, page 8 

[11] Synthesis, page 8