Sri Aurobindo Association in the USA


Listening to Native Americans

There is yogic work to be done in our relations with the First Peoples of this land. They have been here for thousands of years. They have many things to tell us about living on this magnificent land. They are the voices of the land. Our very first work with them may be simply to listen.

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow),
Ute and Picuris Pueblo

RaelYou were born into a culture that was already in existence when you came in, but you came in order so that you could meet the challenges of that time in your history with your people. And you brought with you certain gifts... and those gifts specifically were given to you by Mother Earth, Father Sky.... I have a responsibility to say this to you. Ceremony will never be lost, can never be lost; it was never lost; it belongs to you; it was given to you. At any point if there is any danger that it may be lost, someone will be born into your tribe who will have the gift, who will have the answers, and you will know what to do. I believe this, also at the global level, that there are people perhaps who are waiting to come over who already know what needs to happen. They're coming with those gifts. I think all of you in this room are here because you are supposed to be here today. You bring with you certain gifts that the planet needs now, not 200 years from now or 200 years back. You are all carrying something that we can only do together, because it's a combination of all of us on the Earth at this time that is going to make a significant difference. Otherwise, we might have been born a thousand years from now.... You are all receiving special blessings because of where you placed yourselves, where you are now, and what you are doing."1

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Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), Dakota

EastmanThe first American mingled with his pride a singular humility. Spiritual arrogance was foreign to his nature and teaching. He never claimed that the power of articulate speech was proof of superiority over the dumb creation; on the other hand, it is to him a perilous gift. He believes profoundly in silence—the sign of a perfect equilibrium. Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind and spirit. The man who preserves his selfhood is ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence—not a leaf, as it were, astir on the tree; not a ripple upon the surface of the shining pool—his, in the mind of the unlettered sage, is the ideal attitude and conduct of life. If you ask him: “What is silence?” he will answer: “It is the Great Mystery!” “The holy silence is His voice!” If you ask: “What are the fruits of silence?” he will say: “They are self-control, true courage or endurance, patience, dignity, and reverence. Silence is the cornerstone of character.”2

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Black Elk, Lakota

Black ElkAnd while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I say the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father.3

All things are the works of the Great Spirit. He is within all things; the trees, the grasses, the rivers, the mountains, and the four-legged animals, and the winged peoples. He is also above all these things and people.4

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Luther Standing Bear, Lakota

Standing BearThe man who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures and acknowledging unity with the universe of things, was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization. And when native man left off this form of development, his humanization was retarded in growth.5

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Winona Laduke, Anishinaabe

LadukeWhat I would say is that we are taught in our stories that we are younger brothers and younger sisters of older relatives who came before us and gave us most of the gifts we have today. Our relatives are not only the two-legged. Our other relatives are four-legged; other relatives have wings; our relatives have fins. We are alive today and able to live our lives because of them. We are able to have the quality of life that we have today because of them.6

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Oren Lyons, Onondaga

LyonsOren Lyons was the first one from the Onondaga reservation to go off to college. When he came home for Thanksgiving vacation his uncle took him out on a canoe on a lake, and after he got him midlake, he said, “Oren, you’ve been to college and you must be pretty smart. Now tell me, who are you?”

Of course Oren was taken aback and said, “What do you mean? I’m Oren Lyons.”

His uncle said, “No, who are you?”

After he tried a few more times, and the uncle wouldn’t have it he gave up and said, “Okay, who am I?”

His uncle said, “Do you see that huge pine over on that shore?”

Oren said, “Of course.”

His uncle said, “You are that pine, and the bluff on that side, Oren, you are that bluff, and this water that is supporting this canoe, Oren, you are that water.”7

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Joy Harjo, Muskogee Creek/Cherokee

HarjoI don’t see time as linear. I don’t see things as beginning and ending. A lot of people have a hard time understanding native people and native patience—they wonder why we aren’t out marching to accomplish something. There is no question that we have had an incredible history, but I think to understand Indian people and the native mind you have to understand that we experience the world very differently. For us, there is not just this world, there’s also a layering of others. Time is not divided by minutes and hours, and everything has presence and meaning within this landscape of timelessness.8

The knowing beyond the practical everyday mind is immense. We have poetry, music, all arts, to access, interact with it and translate it, to know who we are beyond the moment we have breath.9

Maybe there is a new people, coming forth
being born from the center of the earth
like us, but another tribe.10

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Vine Deloria, Jr., Standing Rock Sioux

DeloriaI think the primary difference is that Indians experience and relate to a living universe, whereas Western people—especially scientists—reduce all things, living or not, to objects. The implications of this are immense. If you see the world around you as a collection of objects for you to manipulate and exploit, you will inevitably destroy the world while attempting to control it. Not only that, but by perceiving the world as lifeless, you rob yourself of the richness, beauty, and wisdom to be found by participating in its larger design . . .

Most Indian cultures never had a religion in the sense of having dogmas and creeds, nor did they have the sort of all-powerful deity that Christians speak of—a specific higher personality who demands worship and adoration. Rather, they experienced personality in every aspect of the universe and called it Woniya ("spirit") and looked to it for guidance.

What happens in the different Indian religions is that people become so intimate with their particular environment that they enter into a relationship with the spirits that live there. Rather than an article of faith, it's part of their experience.

Indians believe that everything in the universe has value and instructs us in some aspect of life. Everything is alive and is making choices that determine the future, so the world is constantly creating itself. Because every moment brings something new, we need to strive not to classify things too quickly. We must see how the ordinary and the extraordinary come together into one coherent, mysterious story line. With the wisdom and time for reflection that old age provides, we may discover unsuspected relationships.11

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Marilou Awiakta, Cherokee

AwiaktaDuring my childhood, I heard my inner song clearly and spoke or sang it simultaneously. It was easy. Gradually, other sounds, some of them violent discords, mixed into mine. Reweaving my harmony seemed impossible until one snow-stilled afternoon in January 1976. I heard my own song clearly again. With a more experienced and trained ear, I translated it directly into the poem "An Indian Walks In Me"—my credo.

An Indian walks in me
She steps so firmly in my mind
that when I stand against the pine
I know we share the inner light
of the star that shines on me
She taught me this, my Cherokee
when I was a spindly child
And rustling in dry forest leaves
I heard her say, "These speak"
She said the same of the sighing wind
of hawk descending on the hare
and Mother's care
to draw the cover snug around me,
of copperhead coiled on the stone
and blackberries warming in the sun--
"These speak"
I listened...
Long before I learned
the universal turn of atoms, I heard
the Spirit’s song that binds us
all as one. And no more
will I follow any rule
that splits my soul.
My Cherokee left me no sign
except in my hair and cheek
And this firm step of mind
that seeks the whole
in strength and peace.

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Walter R. Echo-Hawk, Jr., Pawnee

Echo HawkThe land can speak to those who listen. The stories it tells are about the people—their origins, struggles, values, and beliefs. The songs and histories that it whispers are often profound, ancient, or can take on sacred meaning…. [W]ithout a land ethic, the American people cannot fully mature from a nation of immigrants and settlers recovering from a rapacious frontier history of Manifest Destiny and stride toward a more just culture that has adapted to the land and incorporates valuable indigenous knowledge and values of its Native peoples into the social fabric.13

Once freed from the shackles of religious intolerance, an America emerges as a land filled with indigenous holy places, a wondrous land where everything has a spirit, including the earth, water, every living thing, and even the mystical powers of the universe. At once, even our American skies are holy, because they contain the heavens teeming with higher celestial powers and primal forces. Just ask the Native peoples, or see the land through their eyes.14

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Phillip H. Duran, Ph. D. (cand.), Tigua

DuranWhat is nature revealing to physicists that Native peoples had already known for ages? Among other things, that wholeness is manifest in the entire universe through the notion of nonlocality and in other ways that I will describe; that the universe is interconnected and interrelated; that the cosmos is a web of relationships; that the circle is an archetype of power (or energy) which pervades the universe; and more. These, to me, imply that there is an authority and an intelligence that calls for a proper relationship.15

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Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow),
Ute and Picuris Pueblo

RaelIt has always been the Native American way to bond energetically with things rather than to work against them. In order to do this, we have to listen to their vibrations with our whole bodies.

Perhaps my listening started before I was born, before I even had a body. I remember flying, coming very fast up to the house at La Boca, and circling. I was like wind, and maybe not even wind. I came flying into the house where my mother and father and brothers and sisters lived. Some force was pulling me to these people, this house.

It was in winter. I floated in through the walls of the little house and wandered the rooms. I heard my mother complaining about relatives who borrow garden tools and forget to return them. The memory ends there. The next time I arrived, I was in her womb. I couldn’t hear her speaking, but her thoughts became like words for me, and these thoughts were the first of many gifts she gave me.16

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There is a huge and growing body of writing by Native people in the United States and elsewhere in North America. Here are a few gems to get you started:


  1. Bronson, Matthew C. and Fields, Tina R., ed. So What? Now What: The Anthropology of Consciousness Responds to a World in Crisis (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), p. 76.
  2. T. C. McLuhan, Touch the Earth: A Self Portrait of Indian Existence (Promontory Press, 1971), p. 110.
  3. John G Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961), p. 43.
  4. Black Elk, The Sacred Pipe (Univ of Oklahoma Press, Kindle Edition, 1989), Foreword.
  5. Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1933), p. 250.
  6. Huston Smith, A Seat at the Table: Huston Smith in Conversation with Native Americans on Religious Freedom, (University of California Press, 2007), p. 43
  7. Ibid., p. 49
  8. Bill Moyers, The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets (New York: Doubleday, 1995), p. 161.
  9. Joy Harjo,
  10. Louise Westling, “Joy Harjo and Louise Erdrich: Speaking for the Ground” in The American Nature Writing Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 2, Fall 1993 (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment) p. 8.
  12. Marilou Awiakta, American Nature Writing Newsletter, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment), p. 14
  13. Walter R. Echo-Hawk, Jr., “Under Native American Skies,” in The George Wright Forum, "Ethnography in the National Park Service: Past Lessons, Present Challenges, Future Prospects," Vol. 26, #3, 2009. pp. 58.
  14. Ibid., p. 67-68.
  15. Phillip H. Duran, Web of Life, p. 4, available from
  16. Joseph Rael, House of Shattering Light: Life as an American Indian Mystic (San Francisco: Council Oak Books, 2003), p. 20.

We are in an age, full of the throes of travail, when all forms of thought and activity that have in themselves any strong power of utility or any secret virtue of persistence are being subjected to a supreme test and given their opportunity of rebirth.
~ Sri Aurobindo


One  can feel the experiences of any sadhana as a part of this one.
~ Sri Aurobindo


The sadhaka of the integral yoga will not be satisfied until he has included all other names and forms of deity in his own conception… welded the truth in all teachings into the harmony of the Eternal wisdom.
~ Sri Aurobindo


For all problems of existence are essentially problems of harmony. They arise from the perception of an unsolved discord and the instinct of an undiscovered agreement or unity... For essentially, all nature seeks a harmony, life and matter in their own sphere as much as mind in the arrangement of its perceptions.
~ Sri Aurobindo


In whatever form and with whatever spirit we approach him [the One], in that form and with that spirit he receives the sacrifice.
~ Sri Aurobindo


The eternal affirms himself equally in the single form and in the group-existence, whether family, clan and nation or groupings dependent on less physical principles or the supreme group of all, our collective humanity. ~ Sri Aurobindo