In Asian philosophical/spiritual traditions, in indigenous nature-based cultures, and even within the mystical origins of Western religions, there is emphasized the sense of our existing within an energy dynamic of the spiritual realm above us and the Nature/earthly realm beneath us with our mind-dominated personal existence unfolding between these primal realms. We exist in what ancient Chinese Taoist culture called “The Middle Kingdom,” and to be enlightened, that is, awake and aware to the fundamental nature of our own deepest level of Being, requires that we have integrated ongoing consciousness of our Earthly connectedness and the transpersonal spiritual with our personal mind. The symbol of the cross, beyond its association with the crucifixion of Jesus and adoption as the universal symbol of Christianity, represents in many cultures the connection, the intersection, of humanity with the divine. The horizontal line or axis of the cross represents the realm of the personal and secular while the vertical axis represents our connection with the primal earthly beneath us and the transpersonal, eternal, cosmic and sacred spiritual realm of existence above and all around us.
The brilliant Hindu philosopher, Sri Aurobindo, saw that behind the evolution of the Universe, of all life, was God, or Supreme Consciousness, manifesting THROUGH the forms in the world. He saw that the manifesting Universe progressed in complexity and degree of consciousness from matter to mind to spirit with consciousness present in all, yet ascendingly expressed. In matter, consciousness at the subatomic level is extremely subtle as its repository appears inert. In biological life, consciousness begins to be interactive with the environment, evolving in complexity from the simplest single cell life to the highly complex neuron-permeated brains and bodies of humans, with minds capable of abstraction and complex thought and emotion, of intuiting beyond material form to sense the perfect and unclouded intelligence of our origin in Universal Consciousness, Spirit, or God. This represents the vertical axis of existence, and along with Aurobindo, many spiritual teachers and traditions see that humanity’s confusion and difficulty are the result of being disproportionally limited in focus and expression to the middle horizontal axis of the personal mental realm where if identity is invested, connection with the primal natural and spiritual realms becomes lost.
To be certain, mental development is humanity’s special evolutionary expression with civilization being the collective projection of the mental realm upon both the natural and the spiritual world, and in our over-developed egoic, anthropocentric sense of evolutionary specialness, we have become quite lost in creating artificial realities and in our obsession with the artificially material and spiritual. We have become imbalanced, seeking to control the world rather than living harmoniously, and this has us in conflict with the Natural World, with each other, and without Spiritual guidance. Yet we do have guidance, for mystical traditions tell us that to find our way to individual and collective harmony, we must learn to reintegrate the mental realm with the ground of Nature and with true Spiritual experience and insight, bringing our mind into its proper perspective and function. We need to heed our twin universal yearnings for connection with Nature and with true Spiritual realization for they point us to the destiny the Universe intends for humanity where our material and mental inventiveness can be dedicated to Universal harmony of a far more complex organization in unity than is our current level of evolutionary development.
Aurobindo, along with the Christian evolutionary theologian, Teilhard de Chardin, saw as humanity’s challenge the task of grasping and manifesting as its destiny the realization of our sense of self arising out of the spiritual origin of material existence, relating to mind as an intermediary faculty for experiencing, expressing, and creating, rather than as the centerpiece of our sense of self. They saw this identification with mind and its personalized ego unintegrated with our natural, earthly commonality within Nature and with the Spiritual, Eternal, and Universal as the source of individual and collective human confusion, conflict, suffering, and destructiveness. They understood that as long as humanity functioned in violation of this evolutionary dynamic, unable to find our proper place within this Great Unfolding, humanity was lost in an immature, self-absorbed, and self-aggrandizing expression of our true Nature, stumbling along in needless suffering and conflict. And finally, they saw that to function as healthy and whole individuals, collectives, and species we must integrate our mental inventiveness with awareness of our origin in the Earthly here-and-now of Nature, grounded and reverent in this primary level of Beingness, while guided, inspired, and comforted by our highest nature in Spirit.
In many cultures, including Aurobindo’s yogic tradition, this integrated experience happens not from focusing our sense of self in the head-mind separating Life into manipulatable bits, but in the heart-mind of awareness which connects and has no actual boundary, a focal point balanced between the Earth below and Heaven above, experiencing the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus taught, all about us. Thusly we can then project our integrated physical, mental, and spiritual capacities through the energy of awareness into the Earthly realm in a manner which Native Americans referred to as walking in a sacred manner and as what Chinese Taoists referred to simply as The Way, and Buddhists name as Dharma.
These insights point us toward realizing the unity of all things and the necessity for mind with its egocentric point of view to overcome its tendency to separate life into objects, into this and that, into my valued subjective point of view and all else as devalued objects. We see that humanity is confused and conflicted because we live within a false hierarchy of values, obsessed with trying to figure out what is desirable and what is undesirable to “me,” leaving all which is not within this personal hierarchy as irrelevant and of no interest. We tear up our lives, our social organization, and the natural world chasing after our desires and in fear of that which we see as undesirable from the personalized egoic perspective.
Failing to see and honor the unity of all existence, to experiencing the Middle Kingdom as the infallible manifestation of the infallible Origin, we bring unnecessary conflict to our lives, to those around us, and to the collective human and Natural World. Without a sense of groundedness and of our spiritual origin and destiny, Life, and all life around us, loses its inherent value, and unhappiness whips at us, driving us to more and more unhealthy and destructive thoughts, emotions, and actions. Instead of bringing our special capacities to the service of harmony with all Life, we seek specialness and power for ourselves and our identity groups. Buddhism calls this “dukkha” – the sense of Life as unsatisfactory which drives us to experiencing and causing unnecessary suffering.
To live mentally, socially, and spiritually healthy lives, the Wisdom traditions of all cultures teach that it is imperative to develop the sense of our vertical axis which on one pole grounds us in the deep rich organic lushness, harmony, and immediacy of Nature and the earth, in the specific here-and-now, and on the other, inspires our daily ordinary lives, Spiritual connection bringing polarity into union. This means that to develop as mentally healthy beings we must also develop a sense of ourselves as spiritual beings, not to be confused with being religious, that is, affiliated with some set of religious doctrines. Religion as such, as Aurobindo noted, is then only the mental realm reaching for the spiritual while staying fully embedded within the divisiveness of the ego-mind. Any religion which serves as a personal and limited group identity and does not point us beyond the divisiveness of dogmatic sectarianism is therefore seen as a false religion.
A true religion, as the word implies, is a living set of teachings which point us to the Ineffable Unity beyond all limiting identifications, to the Universe-of-All, religiously applied and practiced. This is what the word “Yoga” implies, not limited to some set of physical exercises to relax and limber us, as is so often the case in the West, but “to yoke” or “unite” the body, mind, and spirit in the realization of our own integrated unity within a Universe of integrated unity comprised of infinite diversity. Meditation and yoga are meant as expressions and experiences of this unity, pulling us out of our neurotic mental time-traveling instantly into this moment where our lives actually unfold. This sense of presence and integrated connectedness is then not to be left on the yoga mat or meditation cushion, but as the necessary focusing and revelatory perspective carried with us everywhere as we walk and live our ordinary lives, the skill which brings true sanity.
As integration was its vision, Aurobindo named his philosophy and practices Integral Yoga, its purpose to evolve us beyond being lost in the mental realm, alienated from Nature and with only the vaguest yearnings for the Spiritual, often confusing this yearning with religions which are still merely expressions of the mental realm, personalized, dogmatic, and divisive. He pointed us toward the realization of our unifying spiritual existence capable of integrating our three dimensions of matter, mind, and spirit into one unified felt sacred experience with every form of Nature and living being within our everyday world likewise experienced as an expression of the Sacred and Eternal Source. Grounded in material Nature while connected and inspired by the spiritual, we can then live in felt awareness of the vertical axis of our Being, this moment, here-and-now, our body, mind, and spirit balanced and true. Then, as both Aurobindo and de Chardin saw, each individual who has so evolved will naturally serve as a guide and torchbearer for our species in its evolution into its truer and healthier expression, more integrated, in less conflict with Creation. This is the Way that true religion not based in dogma and separateness points, to a life and destiny which is affirming, sane and spiritual, connecting and integrating us, to a faith that can guide us through the world of apparent separateness always in awareness of the underlying unity of all that is, ourselves included.