During my time working in India in 2010 I became increasingly interested in the work of Sri Aurobindo. I had obviously encountered Aurobindo’s name through my readings of Ken Wilber and thought that I had familiarized with a lot of his key ideas (in retrospect I don’t think that this was the case at all). When I got to India however it quickly dawned on me that there was a textual richness to Aurobindo’s work that I could not have perceived of before, I connected with some acquaintances in Auroville, the global township founded on his principles, and also looked up the Sri Aurobindo Ashram with the intention of later making a visit. During my stay I was privileged to be able to spend some time at the International Scholar’s House at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture (RMIC) where my partner and I ran a series of workshops for school leaders and delved into some further research on the spiritual roots of Indian nationalist education. While re-examining to the work of Swami Vivekananda, RMIC’s founder, I found myself drawn over and over again to the ideas expressed in the work of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Upon returning to my base in Uttar Pradesh I immediately ordered a number of Aurobindo’s books, as well as some pamphlets penned by The Mother, and began exploring his challenging work from the original source for myself. I found myself falling in love not only with the clarity of his vision and beauty of his expression, but also with the generosity of his character.
During my readings it became increasingly clear that Aurobindo and The Mother make a significant contribution to an integral vision, and although they have strong similarities with the integral approach popularized and developed more recently by Ken Wilber, they also have many differences. In seeking to understand Aurobindo’s approach more fully, specifically in relation to integral studies in general, and grasp its application more readily I started looking at ways that I could study the work more deeply. It is at this point that I discovered a number of organizations including the International Centre for Integral Studies (ICIS). I was immediately drawn to their focus on the application of theory to making a real difference in the world. I was also drawn to them because – although they pay clear homage to Aurobindo’s work – they express a refreshing openness to other ideas that fall within the ‘integral studies’ field. I am excited by the possibility of being involved with this organization, which I believe is making a meaningful contribution to creating a more integral world in the Indian sub-continent and beyond. It occurred to me that many other people who are bringing an integral approach to their life and work might also be interested in learning more about ICIS, and so I was delighted to be able to pose a couple of questions to ICIS’s secretary, Anuradha, and share her responses with you.
Matthew: Could you share a little bit about the origins of ICIS?
Anuradha: International Centre for Integral Studies started as a Higher Education Unit of The Gnostic Centre (http://www.gnosticcentre.com). Its work began in 1998 with short-term on site courses on self-development related topics, accredited by CODE, Homerton College, University of Cambridge, UK. It was formally registered as a Trust in 2001 and continued to offer several on site courses, workshops, and intensives in psychology, consciousness studies, philosophy, and education. In 2009, ICIS entered into a collaboration with Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Delhi, India, and now offers accredited online postgraduate level programmes in Applied Integral Studies.
Could you tell us about your present activities?
Presently we are offering online postgraduate programmes in Applied Integral Studies which are accredited by IGNOU (a non-accredited option is also available). Within the field of Applied Integral Studies, we offer Post Graduate Certificates, Post Graduate Diplomas, and Masters Degrees focussing on Future Studies, Integral Education, Psychology, Vedic Studies, and Development Studies. Every semester one or two new courses are added to our programme.
Could you share some of your perspectives on how the field of integral studies can contribute to leadership development today?
The problems we face today are primarily a product of the human consciousness and consequent attitudes based on division, egoism, selfishness, and narrowness. Even the solutions being sought tend to be on the surface, and more in the nature of creating outer structures than addressing the root cause within one’s own psyche.
Human consciousness has a huge potential to influence, invoke, and create a positive reality. The first thing required is an inner shift – not just an intellectual paradigm, but a shift in one’s practice, to a non-egoistic, inclusive mode. Secondly, the translation of this attitude into daily actions, organizational structures, group dynamics etc. is required. Integral Studies addresses both these needs.
To be a true leader of others, one must first know how to lead oneself, how to harmonise the different parts of one’s own being, how to resolve the internal discord within oneself. This is what Integral Studies addresses.
What do you think, and I understand that I am asking you to make a rather unfounded generalization here, is the single biggest challenge facing leaders today?
They are trapped in their own selfish, narrow, and limited mental and emotional beings—not open to the higher consciousness, lacking in aims that are larger, unselfish, and lacking in commitment that goes beyond personal interest.
How could we best approach this challenge?
Through an education that is founded upon the growth of consciousness leading to a change in the society—this would mean a change in educational aims, pedagogy, curriculum, and evaluation at all levels.
Do you think that Integral Studies is having an effect on the development of social consciousness in India. What is that effect?
Integral Studies, in one form or another, has been in existence since 1920s at least (emanating from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s work in Pondicherry, India). It has impacted many across the world, both subtly and overtly. In India, specially in the field of education where Integral Education has acquired its own place in contemporary educational discourse. Many alternative, progressive schools have come into existence inspired by these principles. In the field of teacher-education too, the Integral paradigm has made its mark. In the 14 years of the Gnostic Centre’s existence, through our interaction with different strata of society, we have witnessed a shift, an opening towards an integral approach to life, towards deepening of consciousness, towards meditation, and self-development, etc. Even in youth, one can witness a greater aspiration for something more holistic, for an integration between one’s own cultural roots and the future that encompasses the entire humanity.
How can people from around the world be involved with (a) supporting, (b) collaborating with, and (c) learning from your centre?
As the programmes are offered online, people from around the world can enrol in these courses and go deeper into Integral Studies. We also have residential facilities, and students could also opt for on site courses and/or study retreats. People with an integral paradigm and practice, can collaborate by becoming a part of the faculty and facilitating courses. Affiliation possibilities could also be explored and some of the courses could be offered in collaboration with a foreign university. Finally people can offer support through fund-raising, awareness raising, student scholarships, research projects, and the like.
Do you have familiarity with the work of the American philosopher Ken Wilber? Can you share your perspectives on his work?
I have some familiarity with Ken Wilber’s work. As one of the persons Ken Wilber is inspired by is Sri Aurobindo, there are some notions (like that of evolution) that I find easy to relate to. However, his notion of integrality, in my view, is quite different from the notion Sri Aurobindo and the Mother offer. What Ken Wilber speaks of seems more of an integration, an integrated approach—which speaks of deeper and higher states of consciousness, but remains largely bound in mental consciousness. I do not find a sufficient emphasis on or understanding of an actual shift in the consciousness (a chemical change that is irreversible) from a divisive one to an integral one which necessarily must be based on the inner being, the Psychic, the unitive consciousness, and not the mind, however trained it is.
How is ICIS related to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and other organizations such as the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research (SACAR)?
ICIS is founded upon the Integral Yoga philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and that creates a link with all such organizations founded upon the same philosophy. There is no link formally i.e. in terms of organizational structure, entity etc.
Those interested in finding out more about ICIS are advised to visit the website directly at www.integralstudiescentre.org or email Anuradha at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
About the Author
Matthew Rich is an independent scholar-practitioner and began his work in alternative education under the guidance of Sharon Caldwell at the Nahoon Montessori School. Since then he has worked extensively in Asia and Africa as a teacher, trainer, researcher, and consultant. He is a keen student of integral studies (particularly Wilber’s Integral Theory and Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga), alternative education (particularly the work of Montessori, Aurobindo, Illich, and Freire), and Nonviolent Communication and conflict transformation. He has spoken at conferences and retreats in four continents and his writings on sundry topics have been published widely. Presently he divides his time between South Africa and the Netherlands working as a freelance writer; he also offers coaching and consulting services internationally. Matthew can be reached by email at m.h.r.rich[at]gmail.com.