Quest for Knowledge and Mastery, The


A comparative study of motivation in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s teaching.


by Martha Orton

In Part One of this study the author presents one important aspect of human motivation gleaned from a detailed study of Sri Aurobindo’s writings: that man is driven by an impulsion to seek the true knowledge and mastery of life; that this motivation originates from the hidden reality of a single spiritual Self that stands behind all the activities of mind, life, and body; and that to find the conditions under which this impulse can be fulfilled in all aspects of his being is the central problem of man’s life. Part Two examines how Sri Aurobindo’s view relates to other theoretical perspectives of motivation in different fields of human psychology, such as the psychoanalytic, social, personality, humanistic, and transpersonal psychologies.

As a scholar of Sri Aurobindo studies and an experienced psychotherapist, Dr. Martha Orton brings about an extraordinary triple achievement in this book. In the first part she works out Sri Aurobindo’s theory of motivation, which he did not formulate as such but which she finds encompassed in his major works The Life Divine and The Synthesis of Yoga. In the second part she sketches out the theory of motivation in the main disciplines of psychology and in the thought of Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit priest, scientist, and Christian mystic. The third achievement lies in the insightful comparisons she makes between Sri Aurobindo’s theory and these modern theories of motivation, comparisons which have the potential to deepen our understanding of all the perspectives under review. A concise overview at the beginning of each part, a comprehensive summary at the end, and the distinct structure of the chapters in between allow the book to be read according to one’s interest.

Theories of motivation seek to analyse what causes human behaviour and to reveal what is important and meaningful to people, what drives them to live their lives as they do. Thus they address the very core of human psychology and are a matter of interest to all who want to develop a profound understanding of the psyche. Dr. Orton emphasises that it is her intention to identify Sri Aurobindo’s theory of motivation as an intellectual expression of his supra-intellectual spiritual knowledge, received in a silent mind and experienced, realised, and described in his writings in a comprehensive and complex vision and analysis of human life and consciousness. Sri Aurobindo recognises humans as being driven by an impulsion to seek knowledge and mastery, first of the material world all around them, then of themselves, and finally to arrive at the awareness that the knowledge they seek is the realisation of the Divine. He sees the working out of this urge as the central problem of human life, interwoven within his overarching vision of the involution and evolution of consciousness.

One outstanding point referred to is the soul-not dealt with in psychology-which must be free in a witness consciousness in order to become master of the outward nature; but Dr. Orton also elaborates on several other essential elements of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and his Yoga to arrive at an integral theory of motivation. She examines the theory’s philosophical origins in Sri Aurobindo’s thought through such concepts as the oneness of existence and the underlying reality of Sachchidananda, the fourfold order of knowledge, and the progressive offering of one’s self to the Divine as the key to attaining true knowledge and mastery. Her excellent elucidations are themselves a chance to obtain a general idea of Sri Aurobindo’s main concepts and his vision.

Dr. Orton concludes that it is truly a grand theory of motivation, in which Sri Aurobindo provides a detailed developmental perspective which includes both the full range of growth and progress available to the individual as well as humanity’s purpose and the goal of its existence.

The synopsis of various psychological theories of motivation was especially valuable to me as it clarified and completed the knowledge that I was able to gather on this topic during my years of work in psychotherapy. Dr. Orton looks at psychoanalysis (Freud, Jung, and Erikson), social psychology (Rotter and Bandura), personality psychology (McAdams and Emmons), humanistic psychology (Maslow), transpersonal psychology (Assagioli and Vaughan), and Ken Wilber’s integral theory of consciousness and works out all the details that are necessary to capture the essence of each approach to human motivation. This close study shows that those systems which do not have a strong spiritual dimension but describe a lower view of the human potential are further from Sri Aurobindo’s perspective than those which either express or accommodate a view of spirituality. On the whole Dr. Orton’s research discloses that Sri Aurobindo’s conceptualisation of motivation and consciousness is more complete and also expresses a much greater view of the potential for spiritual growth and transformation. In his explanation of the higher levels of consciousness Sri Aurobindo offers a vision of spiritual reality unequalled in its conception.

As to Teilhard de Chardin’s Christian theological perspective, I found Dr. Orton’s description and discussion especially helpful, as his name and some of the keywords he uses (for example, the Omega Point, the Parousia, or the second coming of Christ, and the concept of pleroma, or the fullness of the Godhead which dwells in Christ) come up every now and then in discussions, and I belong to the majority of people who did not read his books in the original and have had only a vague idea about the meaning of these terms. Teilhard de Chardin’s thought supports Sri Aurobindo’s perspective on some essential points, yet Dr. Orton holds that Sri Aurobindo’s conceptualisation of the evolution of consciousness exceeds Teilhard de Chardin’s view in its degree of explanation and development as well as in the scope of spiritual evolution and transformation which he envisions. A further advantage is that Sri Aurobindo includes the concept of reincarnation.

Reading Dr. Orton’s book was an enriching experience for me in many ways. I would like to recommend it to all those who are interested in gaining a succinct insight into Sri Aurobindo’s perspective on motivation and its place in relation to modern psychological theories of motivation.

– Raphaele G.Schlitt

Dr Schlitt, who holds a Ph.D. in Medicine, worked for 15 years as an internist in the University Clinic of Muenster/Westf., Germany, became a psychotherapist, and founded the Forum for Integral Medicine. She is currently studying Sri Aurobindo’s writings at SACAR.

May 2009

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