The Soul: Traveller Between Death and Birth

Sri Aurobindo briefly recapitulates the soul’s journey and steps from the time of death to its next rebirth, describing the various sheaths that need to be disposed of in the process:

“…it is the soul, the psychic being, and not the mind, that is the traveller between death and birth, and the mental being is only a predominant element in the figure of its self-expression. There must then be a final resort to a plane of pure psychic existence in which the soul would await rebirth; there it could assimilate the energies of its past experience and life and prepare its future. Ordinarily, the normally developed human being, who has risen to a sufficient power of mentality, might be expected to pass successively through all these planes, subtle-physical, vital and mental, on his way to his psychic habitation. At each stage he would exhaust and get rid of the fractions of formed personality-structure, temporary and superficial, that belonged to the past life; he would cast off his mind-sheath and life-sheath as he had already cast off his body-sheath: but the essence of the personality and its mental, vital and physical experiences would remain in latent memory or as a dynamic potency for the future.”

He points out that to the extent that sufficient development of the higher powers such as mind or spiritual awareness had not occurred in the lifetime, the soul would not be expected to be able to consciously participate in those levels in the after-death state. He therefore posits that “But if the development of mind were insufficient, it is possible that it would not be able to go consciously beyond the vital level and the eing would either fall back from there, returning from its vital heavens or purgatories to earth, or, more consistently, would pass at once into a kind of psychic assimilative sleep co-extensive with the internatal period; to be awake in the highest planes a certain development would be indispensable.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 22, Rebirth and Other Worlds; Karma, the Soul and Immortality

Internatal Journey of the Soul Through Vital Or Mental Worlds

At the time of the separation of consciousness from the physical body at the time of death, there is the soul and its formed mental and vital sheaths which now become free of the physical impediment. Sri Aurobindo traces the potential journey of the soul through a series of planes or worlds that successively become more subtle and refined as they move further away from the physical and into the vital and mental ranges that have been developed as capacities during the physical embodiment.

The first possibility is for the soul to move temporarily into what Sri Aurobindo calls the “subtle-physical” which has many of the characteristics of the physical world, but without the limitations imposed by physical existence. There are also life-worlds which embody the vital principle that helped to form and fix the vital life and personality of the embodied soul. In the life-worlds one would see the vital power predominant and not limited by the physical limitations. The vital forces which held the attention of the evolutionary soul in life will clearly have strong influence on the direction and focus after death, and the soul may, for a time, get caught up in one of these vital realms as a result. Eventually the soul, however, cannot be totally limited by the physical or vital sheaths. To the extent there was a strong mental or mental-spiritual development, the soul may spend some time in one of the corresponding worlds between births. One may also find that the soul traverses some of these worlds but cannot consciously participate in them if there was insufficient vital, mental or spiritual development in the immediately past lifetime to create a capacity of resonance with what is going on in those worlds. “Any residence of the soul in annexes or in its own constructions could be only a transitional stage of the consciousness in its passage from the physical to the supraphysical state; it must pass from these structures into the true worlds of supraphysical Nature.” The driving force will in any case be the “influences which have shaped his earthly existence…” Eventually all of these intervening stages must be overpassed so that the soul can move to its next evolutionary phase.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 22, Rebirth and Other Worlds; Karma, the Soul and Immortality