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Integral Yoga and Psychoanalysis - I
About Integral Yoga and Psychoanalysis - I
Comprised of reports given at four sessions of an Italian group studying the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, this book seeks to provide a practical link between psychoanalysis and the practice of the integral yoga. The author points out the many common points she discovered while practising the two disciplines; for example, how psychoanalysis can activate what Sri Aurobindo calls the Interior Witness and help in purifying the mind, the vital and the body. The basic theoretical principles of psychoanalysis are interspersed with excerpts from the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to explain and amplify the author's premise.
Integral Yoga and Psychoanalysis is clearly a work of love. The book has a beautiful and attractive cover and is exceptionally well laid-out and printed. It consists of nine talks presented by Miranda Vannuci at meetings of Aditi, a group of devotees of Mother and Sri Aurobindo in Italy. These talks were, in the words of the author, “an attempt to fulfil a need felt by some people to benefit from the practical contribution that psychoanalysis can give to the practice of yoga”.
Whether psychoanalysis can actually make such a contribution is not discussed in this book, but simply taken for granted. One will search in vain for a serious discussion of the considerable differences that exist between the two systems in terms of their basic assumptions about the aim of life, the origin of psychological problems and the “best practices” needed in order to overcome them. What the book does contain is a plain juxtaposition of insights from psychoanalysis and Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga dealing with a wide range of topics: the role of self-analysis, dreams, bhakti, the ego, body language, work, higher levels of consciousness, the vital, and finally the transformation of mind. In each area, the author gives her own ideas, largely derived from psychoanalytic thought, and then follows these up with passages from the works of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo that deal more or less with the same topic. This pattern, which has been followed quite systematically throughout the book, indicates both its strengths and its weaknesses.
The author bases her comments on extensive psychoanalytic practice and she offers in this book a wonderful, representative collection of the core ideas that psychoanalysis makes use of. The author also shows familiarity with the writings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and the book is packed with beautiful and appropriate passages from their writings. What is to this reviewer somewhat disconcerting, however, is that these two approaches to human growth are presented as if they were saying the same thing, while quite often they do not, or at least not in the way the author suggests. A few typical examples will show the problem.
On page 13 the author writes:
Similarly, on page 25 the author talks about how dreams refer to unresolved conflicts in one’s infancy, and then claims that working through them helps “to lessen what the Mother called gaps of the consciousness”, but the gaps the Mother talks about are part of an entirely different phenomenon. The gaps psychoanalysis can help with are located in the lower and higher vital, while the gaps the Mother talks about are in planes far above the ordinary mind. She talks about them to explain the remarkable phenomenon during which some people can contact in sleep or samadhi the highest realms of consciousness long before they have mastered all the steps in between, so that they cannot carry back the full living reality of these higher states when they return to their ordinary life. It is hard to see how mulling over traumatic happenings in one’s youth could help to complete one’s spiritual experience in the highest ranges of the mind and above!
There are many similar juxtapositions, but perhaps the most serious case of confusion comes near the end of the book, where on page 126 the author speaks of “internal digging” (which, to say it mildly, Sri Aurobindo was never very enthusiastic about). She then quotes, as if in support, a passage from The Synthesis of Yoga in which Sri Aurobindo says “It is true that intellectual deliberation and right discrimination are an important part of the Yoga of knowledge…”, but the author leaves out the end of the passage:
The status of knowledge, then, which Yoga
If it comes to a second edition it would also be helpful to get the text checked by someone familiar with psychoanalytic theory and Integral Yoga in English, as the present translation from the Italian is a bit awkward at places and contains several unnecessary errors (e.g. on p. 92 “es” instead of “id”, and in the Bibliography the use of “Opera Omnia” for both the SABCL and CWSA editions). Still, in spite of these shortcomings, it is an appealing book that shines with the love Miranda Vanucci so clearly feels both for the Mother and for the people she works with.
Dr Matthijs Cornelissen
Dr Cornelissen is a member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives and Research Library and teaches Psychological Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Work at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.