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Adapting Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s teachings to an Integral Psychology

Margot Esther Borden


Integral Psychology draws on mysticism, philosophy and psychology, conveying an evolution of consciousness. Psychology in the Light of the East presents a unique approach integrating the reason of Western psychology and the holistic outlook of Eastern wisdom, namely through the teachings of Sri Aurobindo. The author’s lifelong search for truth drew her to explore psychological, philosophical and spiritual traditions of East and West experientially through therapies and spiritual practices and theoretically through research. Thirty years of experience defined her theoretical foundations, a framework and techniques for application inviting the reader on a journey of self-knowledge, self-mastery and the realisation of personal and spiritual potential. This article offers a glimpse of the importance of psycho-spiritual development for the work of helping professionals.

“Physician, heal thyself.” Luke 4:23

Training and practice of psychotherapy are authenticated by our dedicated psycho-spiritual development. For some of us, psychotherapy is absolutely essential to help us overcome crippling issues. And yet for others, it is simply a commitment to ongoing psychological life hygiene. In some places, it is also a requirement for psychotherapists to be in therapy. As helping professionals and aspiring helping professionals, we have many roles and challenges. We are psycho-spiritual beings on our unique path of development, we are clients, and we are in the role of helper to those wishing to be clients. Without undertaking our own psycho-spiritual development, we can hope for nothing more than becoming rote practitioners analysing and applying mechanistic techniques to people who will, above all, gain from the presence we can only learn to offer by first developing it in ourselves.

I’m going to take a strong stand here and dispel the common belief that people cannot change. Whether we start out in life relatively functional or ‘off the map’, therapy has potential benefits for anyone who seeks it. Sometimes we just walk through life with the coping mechanisms we have built, haphazardly and sometimes consciously.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes we come to a point where it all crumbles to pieces. That’s when we see what we’re really carrying with us. It either breaks us down or we take the time to evaluate: what are the foundations I’m standing on? How do I know myself? What is the relationship I have with myself? Do I take care of myself? Do I listen to myself? Do I respect myself? Do I take time to get to know and to listen to my soul? And, of course, the microcosm, our relationship to ourselves, sets the stage for the macrocosm, our relationship to others, society and nature.

The importance of self-knowledge is found in every major spiritual tradition and in the more holistic approaches to psychology as well. Ram Dass believes that for those pursuing spiritual growth, psychological growth is as important as spiritual discipline (1). Rowan agrees:

“It turns out that personal growth work is not an optional extra, it is an essential step on the spiritual path. In the past, people often embarked on the spiritual path without having done this work, and promptly fell prey to demons, devils, elementals and so forth — most of which were projections of their own shadow, their own nastiness (2).”

Addressing problems in thinking patterns, strengthening the will and increasing vigilance complements deep inner spiritual and body-mind work. Uplifting our consciousness and addressing our shadow places us in the best position possible to provide wholesome insights for our clients.

Sri Aurobindo explains that our negative qualities are always looking for an opportunity to express themselves, and great vigilance is required to refuse them this opportunity (3). If our negative qualities and emotions are stronger than we are, they’ll dominate us, but if we become stronger than they are, we master them. Gaining this mastery can be a long and slow path. We must look at what we are carrying with us through meditative awareness and learn to see ourselves the way we are without judgment. Then, with sincerity and determined self-effort, we withdraw our energy from the negative qualities and invest our energy in counterbalancing positive qualities. It is not simply a question of eliminating the negative, but of simultaneously building the positive. When we build strength and are in a positive state, we have more strength for resisting our negative qualities and eventually mastering them. This requires strong will, vigilance and work. It is easier not to face that challenge, but then our life is reduced to compromise and mediocrity. Inner growth is not easy; it is the greatest and hardest of undertakings, but also the most noble and enriching.

Our exploration is not limited to our psychological self. It spans what I call the psycho-spiritual spectrum. We come face to face with our psychological wounds and limiting beliefs on one end of the spectrum. On the other, we may encounter higher states, psychic powers and other subtle phenomenon. Dürckheim suggests that, “People who have already gone as far as reason will take them are the likeliest, in our day, to see and recognize Being which reason cannot grasp, and to register the qualities in which it first speaks to us (4).” This is not necessarily a linear progression; it unfolds, as it will.

The aspiration to heal and become whole is ultimately a quest for our inner truth. The journey begins by learning to listen in and address what arises in our inner battlefield. In the most renowned scene of the epic, Mahabharata, Arjuna is a passenger in the chariot driven by Lord Krishna in the battlefield at Kurukshetra where he is to lead his four brothers, the Pandavas, to war against his cousins, the Kauravas. Realising the daunting mission he is facing, he is overwhelmed and falls into a state of despondency. What ensues is an epic dialogue with Krishna teaching him of the psychological and esoteric symbolism of the battle he and his brothers are called to fight. The inner meaning of this discourse is the battle and the triumph over our conflicting weaknesses, forces, desires and ignorance from within. We aim and aspire to establish ourselves in inner strength and righteousness to attain our ultimate realisation. Our presence of mind, well-meaning guidance and helpers provide the GPS.


1. Ram Dass, Gorman P. How Can I Help? London: Knopf; 1985, p. 22.

2. Rowan J. Ordinary Ecstasy: Humanistic Psychology in Action: London: Routledge; 1976, p. 149.

3. Dalal AS (compiled). Looking from Within. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 1987.

4. Dürckheim KG. The Call for the Master: The Meaning of Spiritual Guidance on the Way to the Self. NY: Dutton (Penguin); 1975, p. 54.

Extracted from: Margot Esther Borden. Psychology in the Light of the East. New York: Rowman & Littlefield; 2017, ISBN: 978-1442260269: 296 pages.

Margot Esther Borden is a psychotherapist, coach and author based in Mumbai, India.

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The Mother


Ram Dass