How is Infinity in a Drop structured?

author: Matthijs Cornelissen
last revision: June, 2019

N.B. This text may not be fully upto date!

The nature of this text

This text is somewhat of a hybrid. It starts with an unusually long introduction in which an attempt is made to set out an integral, philosophical foundation for science, a foundation that works as well for the subjective reality that psychology is supposed to deal with as for the objective reality of the hard sciences. I hope to show that the ancient Vedic understanding of reality and knowledge — at least in the way Sri Aurobindo has interpreted it — can take up that role. What is more, I think that it can help us to develop something that could perhaps be described as "rigorous subjectivity", which, if enough energy goes into it, might have the potential to make psychology as quickly progressive as the hard sciences already are. This introduction is relatively long because the ideas on which it is based are quite different from those on which mainstream science is built at present, and they make only sense when they are all taken together.

The text that follows on it is in its outer structure more or less similar to many introductions to Psychology. It starts with the basics of cognition and research methodologies suitable for the subjective domain, followed by the self and the structure of the personality. After that we find relationships, emotion, motivation and self-development, and at the end it looks at a few of the usual applications of psychology like education, counselling, therapy, etc. In what it says on these issues it is, however, substantially different from most mainstream texts because it is all based on the centrality of consciousness which one finds in the Vedic tradition. Accordingly, its approach presents science and especially psychology, in the words of Don Salmon, as if consciousness matters.

In some sense, this text is only a proof of concept. I've kept the main text as simple as I could, and I've given most of the context, arguments and details in little side-notes and appendixes. The reason I have done it this way is that this approach to science is not yet well-established and people with different backgrounds and objectives may want to go into detail about different issues. I hope that my attempts at explaining core concepts in history, psychology and Indian philosophy are not too offensive to those who know much more about them than I do.

As may be clear, the ultimate aim of this text is ambitious. Infinity in a Drop hopes to show that it is possible to develop a genuinely integral, consciousness-centred approach to science and especially to psychology which is based on Indian philosophy, uses theories and practical know-how of Indian as well as Western traditions, and still fulfils the demands of rigour and intellectual rectitude developed by modern science.

Infinity in a drop consists then of three main elements, a main text, side blocks, and an Appendix


The main text

The main text has an Introduction, five Parts, and an Epilogue.

The Introduction contains three chapters.

  • Chapter One explains the title, the basic structure and the best way to engage with this text.
  • Chapter Two highlights why mainstream psychology needs the Indian tradition. It ends with a short section on integrality which is a crucial element of ancient Vedic thought which comes back in every area of psychology we deal with in this book.
  • Chapter Three deals with consciousness because our understanding of consciousness is the real crux of the matter. This chapter consists of two sections. The first gives a short overview of the different ways consciousness has been understood in mainstream science and in the various Indian traditions and then explains Sri Aurobindo's synthesis and why it could do for psychology what Copernicus' ideas did for physics. The second gives a short outline of Sri Aurobindo's concept of an ongoing evolution of consciousness, and why that could become for psychology what Darwin's theory is for biology.

Parts One, Two and Three give the theoretical foundation of Indian Psychology. They deal with three very basic questions we can expect psychology to answer:

  • What is knowledge? Are there different types of knowledge and consciousness? Which ones are most useful for psychology? How can we make them more reliable and precise? Are there higher realities than those we all know? How should we study these?
  • Who am I? What are the different parts of human nature? How come that we identify with different things at different times? What are the different factors that have made us the way we are? How does the individual develop into who he or she is?
  • Who is the other? What about the other people in my life? The groups in which I'm a member and those in which I'm not? How do I relate to others, to work, to this wonderful world we live in, and to God? Is there free will? What drives me and what is right action?

In other words, Parts One, Two and Three deal not only with the structure of our personality and the processes that take place in it, they are also about knowledge and research, about relationships, group-membership, natural individual development, consciousness, agency and the deep questions of life. To quite an extent, they deal with the same issues that one finds in any introduction to psychology, but they approach them differently. They are primarily first-person rather than third-person because Indian psychology assumes that you have to know yourself well before you can really know and work with others. They also include questions from which mainstream psychology keeps a safe distance. They can include these things because they look at psychology from the consciousness- and infinity-centred perspective of the Indian tradition. This perspective allows us to investigate both experientially and in an intellectually rigorous manner, aspects of reality which the methods of mainstream psychology don't allow us to see: aspects like the subtle forces that make the world work and the underlying oneness and all-pervading infinity that sustain us. As we will see, the consciousness-centered perspective not only enriches and deepens our understanding, but it also offers at least some initial insights about the meaning of life, and the direction in which we are moving.

Part Four — Working with oneself deals with the methods, the basic "technology of consciousness", that can help us to change, to become less ego-centric, more detached and more committed, more loving, more happy, more understanding, perhaps even more wise. And it does this right from the level of "making life a little more bearable", via "liberation" and "enlightenment" to the complete "transformation" that is the ultimate aim of integral yoga. As such it takes some of the questions first touched upon in Parts One, Two and Three to a deeper level. It tries to help find answers to questions like: Why am I here? Do I have a soul? Is there life after death? What is the purpose of life? What is my role in this huge universe? One could look at it as a professional, expert variety of the "self-help" books one finds in a railway station book-shop. But it is more than that. Indian psychology is essentially about consciousness and its main method of enquiry is rigorous subjectivity. In this approach our own nature is our primary "inner instrument" of knowledge, or antaḥkaraṇa. And so, the purification and transformation of our nature discussed in this part of the text are not only meant to improve our social functioning or increase our subjective well-being; they are also meant to drastically improve its capacity as the "instrument of choice" for in-depth psychological enquiry. As such there is no real equivalent for what is offered in this part of the text in mainstream psychology: it is to quite an extent different in underlying theory, methods used, and even in its aims and objectives.

Part Five — Working with others, brings us back to more familiar terrain, though here too the aims and methods differ. Part Five deals with what in mainstream psychology falls under "Applied psychology" and it covers fields like education, counselling, therapy, health, social work, organisational psychology, etc. As in the earlier sections, the basic issues are similar, but everything is looked at from a different perspective which opens entirely new vistas both for theory formation and action.

The Epilogue contains some speculations about the future of Integral Indian psychology and its place in the wider context of science and society. It also contains a few personal reflections on what this text means to me.

Side blocks

Many chapters have side blocks that are basically meant for students. They are designed to encourage active engagement with the text: they ask questions, suggest things to do or pay special attention to and so on. As not everybody likes such intrusions in their reading process, the online version of this text has a Student Questions button in the top-right corner of the screen which can switch the side blocks On or Off.

The Appendix

In the Appendix you'll find things that may be of interest to some but not to all readers. Most chapters of the Appendix give more detail about things that have only been hinted at or described in a very short form within the main text. The appendix also includes a short biography of Sri Aurobindo, an annotated bibliography, glossary and index.

Differences between the online and printed forms of this text

The online form of this text contains occasionally small inline symbols that link to other texts, diagrams, etc.

This icon occurs most often. Its little light links to a short explanation of a word or phrase which is used in a special sense that may not be immediately obvious from the context.
This icon refers to a story. (The symbol is not very good, though, as most of these stories were told long before books existed! Suggestions welcome.)
This symbol links to a text by Sri Aurobindo.
This to a text by the Mother.
This symbol links to a text by some other author about psychology.
This to a Keynote or Powerpoint presentation (with or without explanatory text).
This to a diagram or picture (pdf or jpg).

In the printed text they will be replaced by footnotes and endnotes.