The Ashram was formed with the object of providing a suitable background for the sadhana, the spiritual discipline, of the seekers. Even at young age the Mother had conceived the idea that there should be a place where seekers of God could completely dedicate themselves to spiritual life without any material worries and problems. Such a place was taking shape now and the Mother supervised its development in all details, whilst Sri Aurobindo was opening a path towards Supermind which should eventually be within reach for all sadhaks. The aim which he had set himself went far beyond the traditional aim of moksha, spiritual liberation of the aspirant. The Mother explains, in the following statement, the rationale of integral sadhana:
“…Sri Aurobindo’s Sadhana starts where the others end. Once the union with the Supreme is realised, one must bring down that realisation to the external world and change the conditions of life upon the earth until a total transformation is accomplished. In accordance with this aim, the Sadhaks of the integral Yoga do not retire from the world to lead a life of contemplation and meditation. Each one must devote at least one-third of his time to a useful work. All activities are represented in the Ashram and each one chooses the work most congenial to his nature, but must do it in a spirit of service and unselfishness, keeping always in view the aim of integral transformation.”
The sadhaks were called upon to open entirely to the divine Force and to participate as far as possible in the inner advance of the two avatars. In the early years there was a rather strict discipline. Family and vital relations between sadhaks were largely excluded. Everyone was left to himself and stood alone before the Divine. The Mother herself conducted the sadhana of the disciples, as long as their number was limited:
“…We began with thirty-five, thirty-six; but even till a hundred and fifty, even till a hundred and fifty it was so like… they were as though held in an egg-shell in my consciousness, so close, you know, that I could direct all movements, both inner and outer, all the time, everything was under complete control, at every moment, night and day. And naturally, I believe, in those days they made some progress. It was altogether true that I did the sadhana for them, all the time!”
Later on, when the number of disciples had grown considerably and when children were brought into the Ashram in the course of the Second World War, many changes took place and there was a wider framework. The Mother explained that this widening of the radius of life was necessary since life as such was to be transformed in all its fullness and with all its manifestations. But even then a minimum of discipline had to be observed: smoking, alcohol, sex and political activities were prohibited, since they would pull down the Ashram atmosphere and thus form an obstacle to the supramental manifestation.
Meanwhile, the Mother’s work was made difficult through numberless problems and obstructions. The sadhaks were a representative selection of mankind. As such they did not only embody the highest possibilities in mankind, but also its deepest resistances against the descent of the divine Light. Every single obstacle had to be tackled and worked out and every small victory meant a gain for all humanity. We may imagine that behind every sadhak there was an endless line of men of a similar type, who would profit from his victory or share the consequences of his defeat. A mighty work was being undertaken.
Some sadhaks wished to get direct guidance from Sri Aurobindo, but he wrote them that they had to receive his help through the Mother and that this was the most effective path for doing his yoga. The same arrangement had been made for all sadhaks, and he was not prepared to make any exceptions. Some sadhaks were suffering, because not they themselves, but others were constantly in the Mother’s close company. Here too Sri Aurobindo had to write many letters and remove misunderstandings by clarifying that it was the inner opening which was of decisive importance. Envy, jealousy, pride and selfishness – all variants of the human ego – had their play and had to be eliminated by the Mother with endless patience. Swami Vivekananda has used the image of the curled dog’s tail which always curls back howsoever often you may straighten it: this is the very characteristic of human nature whose transformation is a veritable Sisyphus labour. The manifestation of Supermind required a safe foundation in the form of a nucleus of sadhaks who gave themselves completely to the Divine. Sri Aurobindo once said that he needed one hundred such sadhaks who lived exclusively for the Divine, in order to be able to do his work. The admission to the Ashram was not a guarantee for spiritual success – it was the confirmation of a possibility of realisation.
Basically, the sadhana of Integral Yoga proceeds in three steps: psychic, spiritual and supramental transformation. The principal means are surrender to the Divine and intense aspiration. If these two conditions are fulfilled by the sadhak, the Divine answers with the descent of a supreme Force and Grace from above, which alone can effect the transformation.
Psychic transformation is the first preparatory and indispensable step. It brings with it a decisive turning of the entire being towards the Divine, an elimination of all elements in nature which are crude and obscure, and an organisation of all parts of the being – the physical, vital and mental – around the psychic being. The psychic being is the soul in evolution, which is ever again taking birth in new bodies and assimilating the essence of all experiences. It grows slowly in the course of its human incarnations until it finally emerges and directs the nature of man towards his divine origin. It is like a silver thread running through all births, the one constant factor, but not to be confused with the Atman, the Self which is ever-the-same and unchanging and of which the psychic being is a delegate in the world of evolution. It exists only in living beings on earth which is, as it were, a focus point of evolution in the universe. Sri Aurobindo has given elaborate explanations on the psychic being in his writings and the Mother frequently refers to it in her talks. It is one of the specific discoveries of the two avatars and their great merit to have brought, at last, clarity into the terms of self and soul.
Along with the psychic transformation, but generally when it has reached an advanced stage, the spiritual transformation begins, which brings a descent of Light, Joy, Force and Truth into the whole being of man, which gets now irrevocably established in the Divine and the Infinite. Only after this transformation has been completed or nearly completed, can the supramental transformation take over, in the course of which the entire nature of man gets transformed and divinised up to the very cells of the body. A new being is formed which Sri Aurobindo called superman, a term which has nothing in common with the popular idea of the super-hero of the comics or the aristocratic master-man of Nietzsche’s imagination. Sri Aurobindo had, by the way, a thorough knowledge of the writings of the German poet-philosopher and he refers to him more than two dozen times in his own writings. He points out that Nietzsche had some correct intuitions regarding the future man, but that he mostly spoiled and disfigured them, by bringing in his personal thinking mind. One of his correct intuitions was the idea that evolution will not stop with man and that a new being will evolve who will be as different from man as man is from the ape. There are other thoughts too – especially in Thus spoke Zarathustra – which come close to Sri Aurobindo’s concept. But all in all Nietzsche was misled by his idea of the master-man (Herrenmensch), which is, in Indian terms, an asuric figure with anti-divine characteristics, and he has thus missed his aim, a failure which possibly had more than philosophical consequences.
Sri Aurobindo’s superman is a cosmic being, in close touch with all life in the Universe and conscious of the oneness of all existence. He is a dynamic centre of the Divine on earth; he acts, free from ego, in harmony with the universal laws. He is a channel for the divine Love, for Light and Truth on Earth. In a higher stage of development even his body is included in the process of transformation, starting with a change of the physical functions and then the very cells of the body. Occasionally a distinction is made between superman and the supramental being. Whilst the former represents, so to say, the utmost that can be made out of man in the process of transformation, the supramental being is already a member of a higher species originating from a more elevated plane than human beings. It already has a higher, more plastic body which is not subject to the laws of ordinary mortality, formed, as it were, from materialized spirit-stuff. To speak in a lighter vein, such a being could – to use an amusing image of K. D. Sethna – sit smilingly under the equator sun without perspiration, by using some kind of inner air-conditioning, and he could feel at ease as well at the North Pole without shivering, by producing inner heat.
This is the ideal, the distant aim. Generally speaking, we may say that for most seekers only the first two stages of transformation are immediately relevant, even though Supermind, like a distant sun, may have some indirect impact on our being and prepare it for a future realisation. To organise all parts of the being around the Psyche and keep it always in the forefront is in itself a considerable task to whose necessity the Mother refers again and again in her talks. She often helped sadhaks or devotees through her intervention to re-establish the lost contact with the inner centre and to make it prevail against depression, doubt and desire. Sri Aurobindo has pointed out that the psychic opening is truly the real key for a successful sadhana in this yoga:
“By remaining psychically open to the Mother, all that is necessary for work or Sadhana develops progressively, that is one of the chief secrets, the central secret of the Sadhana.”
“It is only those who are capable by aspiration and meditation on the Mother to open and receive her action and working within that can succeed in this Yoga.”