Developing Direct Contact With the Spiritual Reality

In order for the soul to fully take charge of the outer nature, it is not sufficient for a mental, emotional or vital inclination to develop; rather, there must be a substantial transformation of the seeing and acting of the surface being based on developing a direct contact between it and the spiritual reality. It is true that absent the full experience of this Reality, that the surface being seeks it by focusing on the highest and best manifestations it can find, the seeking for Truth, Right, Beauty, Harmony. These abstractions can help to orient the nature toward a higher Reality, but eventually they have to be superceded by the actual direct experience. We see throughout human history various individuals who carried this seeking forward through just this type of mental or emotional alignment; for instance, the poet John Keats, who wrote “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty…” clearly sought these higher ideals in his reaching out for the Beautiful, etc.

Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that “For such an inmost change the direct contact with the Reality itself is indispensable since nothing else can so deeply touch the foundations of our being and stir it or cast the nature by its stir into a ferment of transmutation. Mental representations, emotional and dynamic figures have their use and value; Truth, Good and Beauty are in themselves primary and potent figures of the Reality, and even in their forms as seen by the mind, as felt by the heart, as realised in the life can be liens of an ascent: but it is in a spiritual substance and being of them and of itself that That which they represent has to come into our experience.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 25, “The Triple Transformation”

Stages of Development of the Human Personality, Part 2

If we move beyond the predominance of the physical being or the vital being, we come to the mental being as the possible leader and organiser of the personality. “Man is a mental being and the mind is the leader of his life and body…” This does not mean, however that there is absolute or perfect control of these earlier elements. “The mental man lives predominantly in the mind as the others live in the vital or the physical nature. The mental man tends to subordinate to his mental self-expression, mental aims, mental interests or to a mental idea or ideal the rest of his being: because of the difficulty of this subordinatino and its potent effect when achieved, it is at once more difficult for him and easier to arrive at a harmony of his nature. It is easier because the mental will once in control can convince by the power of the reasoning intelligence and at the same time dominate, compress or suppress the life and the body and their demands, arrange and harmonise them, force them to be its instruments, even reduce them to a minimum so that they shall not disturb the mental life or pull it down from its ideative or idealising movement. It is more difficult because life and body are the first powers and, if they are in the least strong, can impose themselves with an almost irresistible insistence on the mental ruler.”

Within the framework of these limitations, the mind also does not have the complete power of harmonising the outer nature because it is itself an incomplete and limited force. What occurs is an intermediate step whereby some advancement in the development of the personality is possible under the mind’s guidance and control, but this is done within strict limits based on the divided, mental capabilities.

Sri Aurobindo points out that the true harmonisation of the outer personality can only really begin to occur when we begin to operate from our true center, the seat of the soul, the psychic being. “For the true central being is the soul, but this being stands back and in most human natures is only the secret witness or, one might say, a constitutional ruler who allows his ministers to rule for him, delegates to them his empire, silently assents to their decisions and only now and then puts in a word which they can at any moment override and act otherwise.”

At a certain point in this developmental process, the soul becomes strong enough to take a more dominating and central role, and thereby “can come forward and control the nature. It is by the coming forward of this true monarch and his taking up the reins of government that there can take place a real harmonisation of our being and our life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 25, “The Triple Transformation”

Stages of Development of the Human Personality, Part 1

Each of the gradations of consciousness forms its own “body” within the overall framework of the human being. Thus, there is the physical body, the vital body and the mental body, each with a surface formation and each with a corresponding inner formation. The complex we call our “personality” is actually an amalgam of these various bodies. Sri Aurobindo describes the differences attributable to one or the other of these taking the lead or providing the basic standpoint of a particular individual. “In some human beings it is the physical Purusha, the being of body, who dominates the mind, will and action; there is then created the physical man mainly occupied with his corporeal life and habitual needs, impulses, life-habits, mind-habits, body-habits, looking very little or not at all beyond that, subordinating and restricting all his other tendencies and possibilities to that narrow formation.” Of course, no one is “all of a piece” so the other elements, the vital, mental, psychic or spiritual elements, to the extent they are at all at work, will still have some role and influence on the final “end result” in that particular individual. It is these other influences which can begin to shape the evolutionary progress of the individual through their impact on the outer being, however small or tentative to begin with. Sri Aurobindo provides the example of the inner subtle-physical Purusha exerting its influence: “If the inner subtle-physical Purusha insists, he can arrive at the idea of a finer, more beautiful and perfect physical life and hope or attempt to realise it in his own or in the collective or group existence.” Similarly if it is the vital self that is predominant in an individual, the personality so ruled would be “concerned with self-affirmation, self-aggrandisement, life-enlargement, satisfaction of ambition and passion and impulse and desire, the claims of his ego, domination, power, excitement, battle and struggle, inner and outer adventure…” And in this case, if the inner vital being insists, there can be an uplifting movement in this sphere. “A vigorous vital mind and will can grasp and govern the kinetic vital energies, but it is more by a forceful compulsion and constraint than by a harmonisation of the being.” A further step can be achieved if the vital being gets the support of the reasoning intelligence: “…then a certain kind of forceful formation can be made, more or less balanced but always powerful, successful and effective, which can impose itself on the nature and environment and arrive at a strong self-affirmation in life and action.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 25, “The Triple Transformation”

The Complex Amalgam of Our Outer Nature and Actions

The personality that a human being puts forth and acts upon is not a harmonised, ordered and focused single personality organised around a central purpose, but rather, a complex aggregate made up of impulses, thoughts, feelings, instincts, and sensations stemming from the various parts of our being, the mental, emotional, vital and physical elements, with potentially some stirring of the inner psychic providing further intimations. We try to harmonise these disparate impulses by our mental will and understanding, but rarely succeed more than to a small degree, and much of what we believe to be our own conscious choice in action is in reality the buffeting of our mind and will by these varied forces. Sri Aurobindo discusses these issues as important elements in our self-finding and increasing understanding of the inner nature we are meant to eventually harness to the evolutionary development. “In animal being Nature acts by her own mental and vital intuitions; she works out an order by the compulsion of habit and instinct which the animal implicitly obeys, so that the shiftings of its consciousness do not matter. But man cannot altogether act in the same way without forfeiting his prerogative of manhood; he cannot leave his being to be a chaos of instincts and impulses regulated by the automatism of Nature: mind has become conscious in hm and is therefore self-compelled to make some attempt, however elementary in many, to see and control and in the end more and more perfectly harmonise the manifold components, the different and conflicting tendencies that seem to make up his surface being. He does succeed in setting up a sort of regulated chaos or ordered confusion in him, or at least succeeds in thinking that he is directing himself by his mind and will, even though in fact that direction is only partial; for not only a disparate consortium of habitual motive-forces but also newly emergent vital and physical tendencies and impulses, not always calculable or controllable, and many incoherent and inharmonious mental elements use his reason and will, enter into and determine his self-building, his nature-development, his life action.”

Sri Aurobindo concludes that the mastery sought over this complexity can only be very imperfectly developed by the surface mind and will. “…it can be perfectly done only if he goes within and finds whatever central being is by its predominant influence at the head of all his expressions and action. In inmost truth it is his soul that is this central being, but in outer fact it is often one or other of the part beings in him that rules, and this representative of the soul, this deputy self he can mistake for the inmost soul-principle.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 25, “The Triple Transformation”

Mistaken Identification of the Soul

Sri Aurobindo points out that the development of the soul can be helped along by the mental awareness of and focus on the existence of something within us that survives the changes brought about by life and death of the body. He points out further that “this knowledge is impeded by the fact that there are many elements in us, many formations which present themselves as soul-elements and can be mistaken for the psyche.” This is due primarily to our lack of clear understanding and knowledge about the inner processes, gradations of consciousness and their inter-mixture in the surface personality, which can easily lead us to believe that the temporary forms established by the development and interaction of the inner mind, inner vital and inner physical, as well as the formations developed by the soul itself, all blending together, are actually the soul itself. “…the difficulty is due to our ignorance of the subliminal parts of our nature and the form and powers of the conscious being or Purusha which presides over their action; owing to this inexperience we can easily mistake something of the inner mind or vital self for the psychic.” Sri Aurobindo provides an example of the mistaken identification in the view held by the ancient Greeks, who, while understanding the reality of a process of an after-life. “The descriptions given show very clearly that what was then mistaken for the soul was a subconscious formation, a subphysical impression-mould or shadow-form of the being or else a wraith or ghost of the personality. This ghost, which is mistakenly called the spirit, is sometimes a vital formation reproducing the man’s characteristics, his life-mannerisms, sometimes a subtle-physical prolongation of the surface form of the mind-shell: at best it is a sheath of the life-personality which still remains in the front for some time after the departure from the body.”

There is a serious need for inner exploration and an increasing capacity within us to distinguish and differentiate these different parts and formations, their sources, and their ultimate relationship to the soul which develops, at first hidden and unobtrusive, later more openly in charge of the development between one lifetime and other.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 25, “The Triple Transformation”

Evolution of the Soul’s Manifestation

Sri Aurobindo describes the process whereby the soul begins to manifest itself. The soul is not fully manifested and control in the beginning, but rather, evolves in its expression and ability to influence the surface personality. In the beginning this influence and its ability to communicate with the outer being is tenuous and weak. The process of Nature is a long, slow effort until such time as the human being actually can participate actively and consciously in this process, thereby speeding it up substantially.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the issues surrounding the soul’s evolutionary process: “it is only when man awakes to the knowledge of the soul and feels a need to bring it to the front and make it the master of his life and action that a quicker conscious method of evolution intervenes and a psychic transformation becomes possible.”

Until that time, as the soul-power germinates and begins to grow in Nature, we find it initially incomplete, weak and not totally master of the situation. Through its attempt to widen its expression, it relies for a long time on imperfect influence on the outer body, life and mind, leading to defects along the way: “In these conditions it cannot prevent the true psychic light from being diminished or distorted in the mind into a mere idea or opinion, the psychic feeling in the heart into a fallible emotion or mere sentiment, the psychic will to action in the life-parts into a blind vital enthusiasm or a fervid excitement: it even accepts these mistranslations for want of something better and tries to fulfil itself through them. For it is part of the work of the soul to influence mind and heart and vital being and turn their ideas, feelings, enthusiasms, dynamisms in the direction of what is divine an; butd luminous; but this has to be done at first imperfectly, slowly and with a mixture. As the psychic personality grows stronger, it begins to increase its communion with the psychic entity behind it and improve its communications with the surface: it can transmit its intimations to the mind and heart and life with a greater purity and force; for it is more able to exercise a strong control and react against false mixtures; now more and more it makes itself distinctly felt as a power in the nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 25, “The Triple Transformation”

Soul Manifestation and the Surface Personality

Because of the complex and systematic development of the various gradations of consciousness to manifest the personality, the influence and appearance of the soul is not usually seen in all its purity and direct force; rather, the surface personality is a mixture of the action of body, life, mind and whatever influence the psychic being can exert upon the other parts of the being. Sri Aurobindo describes this process: “But this psychic influence or action does not come up to the surface quite pure or does not remain distinct in its purity; if it did, we would be able to distinguish clearly the soul element in us and follow consciously and fully its dictates. An occult mental and vital and subtle-physical action intervenes, mixes with it, tries to use it and turn it to its own profit, dwarfs its divinity, distorts or diminishes its self-expression, even causes it to deviate and stumble or stains it with the impurity, smallness and error of mind and life and body.”

This admixture and deviation can lead to incorrect interpretation and wrong action, even when the mind, life and body are fully positively inclined to the effort and not totally immersed in their normal goals and methods. In such cases, the action of mind, emotions, vital reactions and physical body can essentially hijack the soul’s intended result and bring about a very mixed formation “which is frequently taken as the soul and its mixed and confused action for the soul-stir, for a psychic development and action or a realised inner influence. The psychic entity is itself free from stain or mixture, but what comes up from it is not protected by that immunity; therefore this confusion becomes possible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 25, “The Triple Transformation”