RESEARCH PROGRAMME FRAMEWORK
Action R & D on Body, Consciousness and Their Interaction
in a Framework of Integrated Living
Sri Aurobindo has said, ...we do not found ourselves on faith alone, but on a great ground of knowledge which we have been developing and testing all our lives. I think I can say that I have been testing day and night for years upon years more scrupulously than any scientist his theory or his method on the physical plane.
Thus, life in Sri Aurobindo Ashram is organised around its central objective, viz., development of consciousness. This effort involves the study and exploration of consciousness at all levels of life. It is a serious practice of the discipline or yoga of integral consciousness, within and without, by each individual. This means a continuous effort at becoming aware of oneself in every activity of the mind, heart, life-force and the very body. Simultaneously, one seeks to become aware of consciousness in things around and to relate oneself to it. This is done at the physical level, the pranic level, the emotional level, the mental level and the spiritual. Whatever the form of activity, it is geared to this aim; its practical, outer results are consequential. Following the motto, All Life is Yoga, every single activity is invested with this significance: to become conscious and raise its quality in the subjective existence along with an effort to inject this motive in the activities of everyday life. The community life proceeds on these lines of growth of consciousness in every field of exertion. Support systems have been evolved through the years, which ensure that things are done with due regard to the presence of consciousness in every form and individual effort is poured in to lift up the levels of consciousness, subjectively and objectively.
Necessarily, the results of this type of discipline do not lend themselves to be measured purely in physical terms. They are to be evaluated in psychological, intellectual, spiritual dimensions as well, corresponding to the Body-Life-Mind-Soul complex that is involved in such a project.
Research in Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Research in Sri Aurobindo Ashram is broadly of two types. One covers areas similar to what is done in universities and research establishments everywhere, and deals with a rather wide range of areas such as organic farming, afforestation, renewable energy, sports medicine, archival conservation, literary editing, history, philosophy, building technology, computer science, theoretical physics etc. The other type of research deals with evolution of consciousness and is the very reason for the Ashrams existence, thus underpinning the first kind in its motivation and approach. Sri Aurobindo described the Ashram in one of his letters (Letters on Yoga, p.856) as a laboratory in which the inner and the outer nature of man is sought to be brought under the influence of a higher consciousness, leading ultimately to a supramental transformation of human nature. Given the fact that all serious problems faced by mankind can only be solved by a fundamental change in our individual and collective consciousness, research in the field of consciousness assumes crucial importance. However, the radical transformation of consciousness being attempted in Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a new endeavour and lacks a ready-made theoretical framework or standardized methodology for describing and evaluating it.
Sri Aurobindo says in The Life Divine (p.650): subjective discovery must be pursued by a subjective method of enquiry, observation and verification; research into the supraphysical must evolve, accept and test an appropriate means and methods other than those by which one examines the constituents of physical objects and the processes of Energy in material Nature.
What is this subjective method of enquiry and is such a thing possible? The focus of modern science is on objective methods and the very idea of a rigorous programme of subjective research sounds self-contradictory. Still, a summary rejection of subjective methods may not be justified. The data of modern science are acquired with the help of an extensive physical and analytical instrumentation developed over several centuries. Interestingly, a perhaps not less sophisticated technology for the study of consciousness and inner realities was developed in the Indian civilisation over the millennia. Though obscured in recent times by hermeneutic problems and an extensive ritualistic and scholastic encrustation, the basic principles on which these methods of subjective enquiry are founded are perfectly rational and sound. Sri Aurobindo made an indepth study of the different approaches to yoga developed in India and came to the conclusion that essentially, yoga is nothing but practical psychology. In other words, it is a highly specialised and concentrated use of natural psychological processes, closely similar to the way modern technology makes use of basic physical laws to achieve its many miracles in the physical field.
The difficulties encountered in research in consciousness and the transformation of human nature get complicated by the fact that the normal avenues for expressing scientific information are not suitable for sharing this kind of inner knowledge. This is so because the knowledge of the inner realm is of a different type from knowledge that science deals with, because, being experiential and implicit, it cannot be adequately expressed in explicit statements. Teachers through the ages have, moreover, warned against premature sharing of personal experiences, as this tends to distort and disrupt the very subtle and fragile process of inner growth and transformation. However, all this does not mean that the work on transformation of consciousness cannot be shared, though in a subtle manner. In fact, there is a constant stream of visitors to the Ashram who return home with answers to their specific personal and professional problems that help them to deal with their life and work in a more inspired, harmonious and enlightened manner. Though difficult to quantify, anecdotal evidence is so massive that the conclusion that Sri Aurobindo Ashram does have considerable uplifting and harmonising effect on the society at large is inescapable.
There is hope that the gulf between modern science and the rigorous and systematic study and development of consciousness as developed in Sri Aurobindo Ashram will be bridged at least to some extent in the near future. There is a growing awareness in the emerging inter-disciplinary field of Consciousness Studies that the existing methods of objective science can, intrinsically, study only the physical correlates of consciousness, not consciousness itself. Till more concrete work is done in this direction we have to limit our report to the more traditional fields of research in which the Ashram is involved. It needs however to be kept in mind that all activities in the Ashram, recognisable or not as academic research, are done with the aim of development and transformation of consciousness in the direction envisaged by Sri Aurobindo and this type of work forms the major contribution of Sri Aurobindo Ashram to India and the world.
Interactions with the Government regarding Research
Sri Aurobindo Ashram came to be recognised as a scientific research body by the Indian Council of Medical Research for its work in the field of Yoga and Consciousness development in 1973. This recognition has continued uninterrupted since then. However, under the unified administrative arrangement brought into effect since 1982, the responsibility for this recognition from the Government of India was shifted to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) under the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Relevant extracts from reports given by scientists deputed by the Government to study research in the Ashram are given below.
Pre-1982 Period (ICMR)
Dr. R.M.Varma of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences, Bangalore, reporting to the Director General, ICMR, New Delhi (April 1979):
The Ashram has embarked on a long term continuing research on total living for life. This covers a wide spectrum of factors pertaining to the human being, the environment and their interactions, and the finding of selective models of living to maximise human potential in the context of environmental opportunities. As such the enquiry is of a comprehensive nature with experimental details covering all aspects of living, in the actual living situation, comprised of ordinary and non-ordinary events....This enquiry is a unique one.... I am convinced that a very high quantum of research is going on in the Institution....
Post-1982 Period (DSIR)
Dr. Ashok Parthasarathi, Additional Secretary, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, in a letter to the Ashram Research Advisory Committee, after his visit in April 1993:
I cannot quite record anything like adequately my deep appreciation and thanks to you and all the numerous other persons I met.... However, I feel strongly impelled to do so because the visit has left a deep impression on me.... I will do all in my power to promote and support the many initiatives and projects that were presented to me and which we talked about....
Research Framework As stated above, the research work in the Ashram is integral in scope and therefore crosses the sectoral in approach. For purposes of reporting, a structured outline of external ramifications of the collective effort in progress is presented below.
- Development of integral personality.
- Positively healthy and fit body with delayed ageing process leading ultimately to the evolution of the supramental being1 in an Action-Research setting of community and individual living in accordance with the teaching and practice assiduously developed and detailed by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in their spiritual laboratory i.e., Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
1. Sri Aurobindo, The Supramental Manifestation (Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, 1962).
- In a spirit of continual practice of selfculture, objective and detached observations of ones evolving self and the environment around.
- Perfecting the support systems in a spirit of scientific rigour and dedicated service, both as a cradle and an expression of this practice of self-culture.
- Documenting and making available results for application to society at large.