Sri Aurobindo & the Future Psychology
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by A. S. Dalal with contributions by Brant Cortright, Michael Miovic and Alok Pandey
Dr. A. S. Dalal is well known for the compilations he has made from the works of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Making compilations is not as easy as it looks. One has to find the right balance between one's desire to be comprehensive and the need to avoid duplication; one has to include enough context to do justice to the complexity and subtleties of the original text, and yet avoid leading the reader away from the exact topic in which he is interested; and, most difficult of all, one has to take great care that in one's selection of certain pieces and the rejection of others, one does not create a skewed or distorted picture of the original. The major works of Sri Aurobindo are for many beginners on the path of Yoga rather daunting, and in the Mother's Collected Works one may need to read through a lot of material before one finds exactly what one is looking for. So there is a legitimate need for compilations, and amongst the many disciples who have tried their hand at putting them together, Dr. Dalal stands out by the exemplary conscientiousness with which he has taken up this work. His books have not only introduced innumerable newcomers to the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, but they continue to guide and inspire even those who are quite familiar with the original texts, but who still enjoy seeing all they have written on a certain topic together in one place.
What is much less well known is that Dr. Dalal has also written over the years quite a large number of carefully crafted articles dealing with a wide range of psychological topics. The essays collected in this book are, like his compilations, in a class by themselves. While many authors who write about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are eager to show off the brilliance of their own ideas, or at least the flourish of their own style and enthusiasm, Dr. Dalal does nothing of the sort. He limits himself with an admirable discipline to the rendering of Sri Aurobindo's ideas, using here and there texts by the Mother to further clarify difficult issues. Some of these articles deal exclusively with Sri Aurobindo's own thought, but in most of them he compares Sri Aurobindo's ideas to a small number of prominent Western writers: William James and Sigmund Freud, who were elder to Sri Aurobindo, Carl Jung and Roberto Assagioli, who were somewhat younger, and Ken Wilber, who is our own contemporary. One chapter is dedicated to a comparison with R. H. Bucke, who wrote the 1901 classic text Cosmic Consciousness, and another to Daniel C. Dennet, who defends one of the most extreme forms of physicalist thought.
I must admit that I'm a bit ambivalent about these comparisons. Modern psychology is a highly complex field in which thousands of authors debate their findings and opinions in a variety of specialised sub-fields. William James, Freud and Jung, though undoubtedly great thinkers in their day, do not occupy any longer a prominent place in these discussions, and their strong presence in some chapters gives, for those familiar with the present "scene", a somewhat dated feel to the book. This is a pity because the book purports, and rightly so, to deal with the future of psychology. There is of course also a sense in which these comparisons do help. They show, beyond a shadow of doubt, how far Sri Aurobindo's work goes beyond that of these founding fathers of modern psychology in terms of subtlety, profundity, comprehensiveness and even intellectual coherence. The lack of connection with the present discussion in psychology is, moreover, compensated for, at least to some extent, by the three guest-contributors. Brant Cortright lays a connection with psychotherapeutic practice in the USA, Michael Miovic connects Sri Aurobindo's ideas to recent developments in integral and transpersonal psychology, and Alok Pandey shows how he applies Sri Aurobindo's thought in his own psychiatric practice in India.
The greatest asset of this book remains, however, that one can simply trust it. Dr. Dalal is here, as in his compilations, admirably conscientious, and one would be hard-pressed to find any serious error or misleading remark in any of these chapters. This crucial quality alone makes Sri Aurobindo and the Future Psychology a book one can unhesitatingly recommend to anybody interested in the psychological aspects of Sri Aurobindo's work. In fact the only sentence in the book that made me feel uneasy occurs in the Preface. It reads, "One is apt to get a better and more comprehensive understanding of Sri Aurobindo through a study of his works by subjects rather than by reading them from cover to cover." This goes, for me at least, one step too far. By immersing oneself in the original works, one gets a sense of the depth, comprehensiveness and majesty of Sri Aurobindo's being that no compilation or third-person essay can ever convey. We must hope that these essays, like Dr. Dalal's compilations, will not only provide the reader with a reliable intellectual introduction to Sri Aurobindo's psychological thought, but that they will also guide him towards the indescribable privilege of reading the original works "from cover to cover".
— 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.
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