The Transitional Being and Mother’s Yoga of Matter

Collaboration Journal
Special Feature

The Transitional Being and Mother’s Yoga of Matter


THE COLLABORATION  JOURNAL SPECIAL FEATURES series highlights notable articles from Collaboration journal and makes them available to readers without a subscription. This article appeared in Collaboration, Vol. 48, No. 1, Spring 2023.

The Mother (Mirra Alfassa) in 1967
The Mother (Mirra Alfassa), c. 1967. Image: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi

In Integral Yoga, the divine feminine is seen as the self-existent, self-cognitive, self-effective power of the Divine whom we know as the Divine Mother. She is the conscious force of knowledge, will, harmony, and love that upholds the universe and links the world to the transcendent Supreme. Mother of creation, she manifests all things in herself, supports the million processes of life, and mediates between the human personality and Absolute Being. It is she who drives evolution and transforms our ordinary nature into divine nature. She is the apotheosis, the ultimate essence of the divine feminine.

Mirra Alfassa Richard, who embodied this quintessential force, was an artist, occultist, and advanced spiritual being who first met Sri Aurobindo in in 1914 and returned permanently to Pondicherry in 1920 to become his close spiritual collaborator. Sri Aurobindo recognized her as a full incarnation of the Divine Mother and wrote the famous book The Mother about her. Soon she became known by seekers simply as “the Mother.” Years later, Sri Aurobindo explained that without her, all his realizations would have remained theoretical; no organized manifestation would have been possible. It was she who showed the way to a practical form.[1] Her embodiment, he said, was a chance for the world to receive into it a new consciousness, which he called supramental, and to undergo the transformation that would make that possible.[2]

Together Sri Aurobindo and the Mother labored for 30 years to bring down the supramental consciousness into earth-nature, and when he passed on, she continued this work for another 23 years. To understand the sheer magnitude of this work, which was nothing less than the divinization of matter, we must understand the evolutionary vision they shared.

An Evolutionary Leap

According to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, evolution is the gradual development of incarnate, physical forms that increasingly embody higher and more powerful modes of consciousness. Humans, who are mental beings, are about halfway up the ladder. But the world is on the threshold of a great leap to the next level of consciousness, a supramental cognition that exists above the mind; and a new species is emerging in which the faculty of supermind will be native.

The supramental is a limitless golden immensity.
The supramental is a limitless golden immensity. Image: Larisa-K / Pixabay

The Mother, who experienced it, said that the supramental is a limitless golden immensity, a luminous, eternal, omnipotent force as vast as the universe. Its powers are light and bliss and beauty and perfection. It contains within it an infinite multiplicity of colors and vibrations, forces and forms, but all these diversities are held as integral harmonies in a boundless, undivided reality. The essence of the supermind is oneness; there, the feeling of separation vanishes.

Nature is now working out the transition from mental to supramental consciousness in humanity. But these evolutionary transitions generally take a long time, and so Sri Aurobindo and the Mother developed what they called the Integral Yoga to help us along, that we might accomplish in one lifetime what might otherwise have taken many lifetimes or ages.

Interestingly enough, however, the further they advanced in their work, the more they saw all the stages that had to be crossed between mind and supermind. They realized that entering directly into supermind would produce such an abrupt change that the human body would be unable to support it. Hence they saw the necessity of a transitional being or an intermediary race between humanity and the coming supramental species. Mother called this intermediary race the surhomme, which has been translated as superman or overman.

In fact, Mother was born human; and through yoga, she became a living example of this transitional being. It was an inconceivable evolutionary leap—but to comprehend how inconceivable it was, we need to look at the difference between mind and supermind.

Mind and Supermind

Mind cuts out forms from the whole and divides it into smaller and smaller pieces.
Mind cuts out forms from the whole and divides it into smaller and smaller pieces. Image: Geralt / Pixabay

Mind is the power of consciousness to measure, limit, separate, and differentiate. It cuts out forms from the whole and divides it into smaller and smaller pieces—by deconstructing, analyzing, and taking things apart, or by constructing, synthesizing, and aggregating—but always dealing with discrete elements and separate components. Mind can see the whole as the sum of its parts, but it can’t see the unified reality behind; it can’t possess the Infinite.

But the supermind can. In the supermind, reality is indivisible, for supermind is a consciousness of unity. In the supermind, oneness is simultaneous with multiplicity; all powers work in harmony without opposition or collision, according to the one Will inherent in all—because supermind is the wisdom, power, light, and bliss by which the universe is upheld.

Now, all this oneness and sublimity may sound like just another description of enlightenment and most of the spiritual realizations of the past; but those realizations were not supramental. They took place at the highest level of spiritualized mind, a level of consciousness Sri Aurobindo called overmind.

The overmind is luminous and full of power, but it’s also where cosmic separative awareness begins. Therefore many spiritual traditions, assuming this was the highest consciousness attainable to seekers, have seen an unbridgeable gap between spirit and matter—because separative awareness leads to the great fall from knowledge into ignorance, suffering, and death.

Some Indian spiritualities have thought that the overmental power of maya,  deemed a power of illusion, is what created the universe. Since they believed the world was an illusion, and an illusion full of misery at that, they decided the best thing to do was to turn away from embodied life—to seek enlightenment and obtain release from the cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation.

But for Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the universe is not an illusion created by overmind maya; it’s real, and it comes into being through the dynamic manifesting power of the supermind. Supermind is the missing link between the spiritual heights and the material base of existence, and it has what the overmind does not: the power to integrate spirit and matter and divinize earth nature.

However, in order for this to happen, matter itself must become capable of bearing this massive, omnipotent force of light and love. Yet matter as we know it is hard, resistant, closed, and unconscious—it must be taught to wake up.

The Yoga of Matter

Meanwhile, Sri Aurobindo had once told the Mother, “We can’t both remain upon earth, one of us must go.” He said she could not withdraw because her body was better than his and could better undergo the transformation.[3]

And in 1950, he left the body.

It then became Mother’s task, working alone, to bring supramental consciousness into matter. She turned herself into a living laboratory, using her own body as a test bed, an intermediary by which earthly substance could be transmuted. Her yoga was material—she called it the yoga of matter, the yoga of physical vibrations, the yoga of the cells—and it presented a unique set of problems.

Mystics of all ages have universalized their inner consciousness and felt one with all beings and with the Divine; and Mother and Sri Aurobindo had supramentalized their mind and vital energies long ago—but how do you universalize a body? How can a body spread out to infinity and be one with everything without losing its shape or dissolving into nonphysical reality?  

The body is made from material structures—muscles, bones, organs, nerves, blood. How do you cosmicize your elbow? How do you make your knees omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent? Because we’re talking here about the divinization of matter, not just of the inner consciousness.

And of course tissues and bones are made up of even smaller units, the cells, that function autonomically, far below the level of awareness, obeying habits that go back millions of years—repeating endlessly, mechanically, instinctively.

So what Mother had to do was go down, down into the cells, and change their subconscious functioning into a conscious activity under the direct guidance of the Divine. You can see that it would be a miniscule work—and in fact, that’s what she was doing for 23 years: cell by cell, teaching her body to open to the supramental light, teaching each cell a new way of supramental being.

What the Mother had to do was go down, down into the cells, and change their subconscious functioning into a conscious activity under the direct guidance of the Divine. Image: efes / Pixabay

But the ordinary human body cannot bear the touch of the supermind, which it feels to be strange, terrifying, and devastating. So, often when Mother made the transition from old cellular habits to a supramental functioning—a transition she called the “transfer of power”—the normal working of her body stopped. Nerves, heart, brain, respiratory system—her physical was in a permanent state of crisis. She went through a series of emergencies that looked like critical illnesses.

But in Integral Yoga, each difficulty is a means for greater progress; and through these ordeals, Mother came upon an astonishing discovery. It had to do with how the body is deeply, hypnotically, fantastically affected by the mind.

Different Modes of Mind

As humans, we’re mental beings, and everything we perceive—thoughts, emotions, sensations, forms—is perceived with mental consciousness. But mental consciousness has various modes: there’s the intellectual mind with its rationality, philosophy, and logical thought; the emotional mind, with its feelings, justifications, and desire-based reasonings; and the physical mind with its obstinate materialism.

For the physical mind, what’s real are solid objects, external happenings, deterministic causes and effects—and, of course, scientific discoveries and doctors’ opinions. It is also a mind of habit and repetition, endlessly looping small, programmed subroutines.

Moreover, because the physical mind was formed under the pressure of suffering and struggle, it’s stamped with an almost indelible sense of incapacity and defeatism. It pessimistically foresees every possible disaster and disease and accident.

The further down into the physical mind, the worse it gets. And way down at the bottom, where primal mind meshes with bodily matter, is the mind of the cells. This is a material mind that lives in a constant state of alarm and anxiety, a trembling that comes from fear ingrained in matter. It’s apprehensive, it’s automatic, and it’s closely related to physical illnesses.

And what Mother discovered, to her astonishment, was that the cells of the body obey this material mind. Therefore, if you can bring it under control, the body too will change—to the extent that what seemed to be absolutely irrefutable physical disorders and illnesses can vanish in a moment. Mother did many experiments and found this to be true.

She found that if she could still the material mind and make it receptive to the Divine, problems in the body that seemed incontrovertibly real and concrete changed instantly. Indeed, Sri Aurobindo said that once the physical mind is transformed, the transformation of the body will follow naturally.

A New Substance

So we come back to the nature of the mind: Mind imposes a grid on omnipresent reality and views the pieces it’s made as separate objects. Matter as we know it is a mental perception of omnipresent reality chopped into bits.

We call these bits “atoms.” Incredible as it may sound, according to Sri Aurobindo, atomic matter is the one unified reality perceived through mental consciousness. What we call matter is the substance of that reality divided by the action of universal mind. That substance is like a flowing sea—it’s not divided in itself, it’s only divided in the observing consciousness. So if the material consciousness is supramentalized, matter will be perceived as un-atomic substance—a unitary self-extension of omnipresent reality.

And so it was that in Mother’s body, the supramental consciousness, working through the mind of the cells, began to touch and transform matter, and as it did, it began to change it into a new kind of substance. Mother began speaking of this new substance as true matter, unified matter. She said, it’s more powerful, more luminous, more resistant than ordinary matter. It has certain subtler, penetrating qualities and a kind of innate capacity of universality. Its refinement allows the perception of vibrations in a much wider way. And, Mother said, it removes the sensation of division that’s found in mentalized substance—the sense of separation disappears quite naturally and spontaneously.

Mother's body consciousness felt like a movement of waves, carrying the universe in its undulatory movement.
Mother’s body consciousness felt like a movement of waves, carrying the universe in its undulatory movement. Painting: “Global Flight” by Mira M. White

As the supramental consciousness permeated Mother’s body, its capabilities increased a hundredfold. It was no longer even individual in the separate sense—its boundaries seem to be gone, as if it were spread out everywhere, without limits. Her body consciousness felt like a movement of waves, she said—vast as the earth, infinite, like an eternal vibration with no beginning and no end, filled with power and carrying the universe in its undulatory movement.

The Materialization of the Psychic Being

Now, in Integral Yoga, one of the first necessities is to discover one’s innermost being or deepest self. This is the actual presence of the Divine within us, often called the soul. Sri Aurobindo borrowed a word from the Greek, psyche, and called it the psychic being. A self-aware portion of the Divine, the psychic being is immortal: it evolves from life to life, starting out as a spark and growing into a complete individuality expressive of a unique, fully realized divine personality.

Each time the psychic being incarnates, it draws to itself physical, vital, and mental elements to create a complex form through which it experiences and enjoys material existence. And till recently, that’s all it had to work with—physical, vital, and mental elements were the only ones that had evolved in earth nature. But since Mother did her work, there’s a new element it can gather around itself: supramental matter.

And one day in 1968, Mother noticed that there seemed to be a new intermediary form developing between her psychic being and her body. Two years later, she realized that in fact it is the psychic being that’s going to materialize itself and become the supramental being, that is to say, the next species in evolution.

According to Georges Van Vrekhem, who’s written some wonderful books on the Mother, the psychic being will do this by clothing itself in supramental matter—transformed earthly substance that’s sufficiently refined to give it an enduring and immortal shape. But this will only be possible when a sufficient quantity of gross matter is transformed by the process of supramental permeation. This supramental permeation is happening now, and it’s contagious. Mother started it and it continues. It’s a direct action from matter to matter that can be perceived and felt, not with the mind, but with the supramental sense.

Mother gradually evolved an archetypal supramental body.
In the course of her experiences, Mother gradually evolved an archetypal supramental body. Painting: “New World Rising” by Mira M. White.

An Archetypal Supramental Body

Georges Van Vrekhem also says that in the course of her experiences over 23 years, Mother gradually evolved an archetypal supramental body made out of supramentalized matter. As I understand it, this supramental body, which is immortal, is living in what Mother called the true physical, the subtle physical. She also called it the New World. This is a world that’s developing and gathering force just behind surface reality as it comes closer and closer to full manifestation. Because before things appear, they take form in the subtle physical and then precipitate out.

But again, in order for this New World and Mother’s supramental body to fully manifest, there has to be a certain critical mass of receptivity in people on earth and a sufficient supramentalization of matter—which there wasn’t in 1973 when she left the body, but which there may be in years to come.

What We Can Do Today

In the meantime, for those of us who are not ready for full supramental transformation, is there anything in Mother’s yoga of matter that can translate into something we can understand and realize in our own lives? Yes, there is.

First of all, Mother’s yoga was based most of all on a single methodology: surrender to the Divine. Surrender is something we can make part of our own practice: we can work each day to progressively offer ourselves, all we are and have, in every part of our being, in every moment, to the light, love, and beauty of the Divine. Because as Sri Aurobindo said, the first word of the supramental yoga is surrender; its last word also is surrender.

Second: We can learn to live in the consciousness of our soul, the psychic being, the Divine within—to bring it forward, to unify our being around it, to live in it more and more. This is something we can do here and now that is directly relevant to supramental transformation—for we know now that it is the psychic being that will manifest the supramental body.

We can learn to live in the consciousness of our soul, the psychic being.
We can learn to live in the consciousness of our soul, the psychic being, the Divine within. Painting: “Her Morning Rose” by Mira M. White

Third: We can awaken our physical consciousness and improve our bodies to the highest degree possible—through fitness training, sports, hatha yoga, movement awareness, disciplined health habits—so that our bodies can be capable of serving as fit instruments for the higher consciousness. Because, Mother said, the skills developed in physical training are exactly those we must have to be fit for receiving and manifesting the new forces. Physical mastery, she said, leads to an improved body in which the cells acquire a plasticity and receptivity that makes the material substance more supple for the permeation of supramental power.

So now we come back to the idea of the transitional being, the surhomme, and how that relates to us. Sri Aurobindo said, humans are born for transcendence. Our inmost need is to be greater than what we are, to be more than human, to be divine.

And Mother said that all those who strive to overcome their ordinary nature, who try to realize materially the deeper experience that brought them into contact with divine truth, all those who try to realize physically and externally the change of consciousness they have found within themselves—all are apprentice surhommes.

She went on to say that each time we try not to be an ordinary person but to express in our actions that higher truth, rather than being governed by the general ignorance, we are apprentice surhommes. And according to the success of our efforts, we are more or less able, more or less advanced on the way.

Thus it is through our own practice of yoga, sincere surrender, and receptivity to the inner touch of the Divine Mother that this work may continue in us, leading us individually and collectively ever closer to the New World.


For further reading on the Mother’s life and the yoga of matter:

  • Mother, Mother’s Agenda, vols. 1–13 (New York: Institute for Evolutionary Research).
  • Mother, The Mother’s Yoga 1956–1973: A Compilation from the Mother’s Agenda, vols. 1–2 (Auroville: Mother’s Photographs, 2012).
  • Mother, Notes on the Way, Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 11.
  • Satprem, The Mind of the Cells (New York: Institute for Evolutionary Research: 1992).
  • Sri Aurobindo, The Mother with Letters on the Mother, Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, vol. 32.
  • Van Vrekhem, Georges, Beyond the Human Species: The Life and Work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1997).
  • Van Vrekhem, Georges, The Mother: The Story of Her Life (New Delhi: HarperCollins India, 2000).

[1] Nirodbaran, Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol. 1 (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram), p. 4.

[2] Sri Aurobindo, The Mother with Letters on the Mother, Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, vol. 32, p. 32.

[3] Perhaps around February 1927; see Mother’s conversation of July 26, 1969 in Mother’s Agenda, vol. 10.

LYNDA LESTER edited the Integral Yoga journal Collaboration for ten years, is a past president and current board member of the Sri Aurobindo Association, and has given many presentations on Integral Yoga, including a six-part series on “Our Many Selves: Moving toward Mastery of Our Complex Being.” Her talk on “The Union of Spirit and Matter: Science, Consciousness, and a Life Divine” was hosted by La Grace Integral Life Center as part of its New Perspectives series.

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