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 These abstractions can help to orient the nature toward a higher Reality, but eventually they have to be superceded by the actual direct experience.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”

Recognising the Soul’s Influence on Our Being

One of the reasons we have difficulty in understanding the soul’s action is that its influence, starting out as intimations or impulsions to the surface being, is thereby mixed in with the complex jumble of conflicting impulses that represents what we call our personality. This personality is based on the sometimes contradictory demands of our physical, vital and mental surface personalities which themselves are reflections of the inner, occult subtle physical, vital and mental being. The soul-influence is however something that slowly grows, shapes itself and takes on a form that is recognisable. Sri Aurobindo explains: “On this ignorant surface we become dimly aware of something that can be called a soul as distinct from mind, life or body; we feel it not only as our mental idea or vague instinct of ourselves, but as a sensible influence in our life and character and action. A certain sensitive feeling for all that is true and good and beautiful, fine and pure and noble, a response to it, a demand for it, a pressure on mind and life to accept and formulate it in our thought, feelings, conduct, character is the most usually recognised, the most general and characteristic, though not the sole sign of this influence of the psyche. Of the man who has not this element in him or does not respond at all to this urge, we say that he has no soul. For it is this influence that we can most easily recognise as a finer or even a diviner part in us and the most powerful for the slow turning towards some aim at perfection in our nature.”

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

The Nature of the Soul’s Action

For a long period of our evolution, the soul or psychic being remains deeply hidden and its action is for the most part indirect, sending guidance or intimations in the form of intuitions, influences, suggestions to the surface nature composed of body, life and mind. These surface formations in some cases are able to respond to the quiet prodding or guidance provided by the soul, and in others, they simply disregard or modify these quiet urgings to take the form and shape of their native action in their own field. Depending on the ascendency of the vital ego or the mental formation of the individual, the promptings of the soul may be overwhelmed by the action of the force of desire or mental formations which block true psychic guidance. All of this leads many to simply try to deny the existence of the soul, or to disregard its true action and role in the evolutionary process.

Sri Aurobindo explains the role and nature of the soul’s action as follows: “For the psychic part within is there to support the natural evolution, and the first natural evolution must be the development of body, life and mind, successively, and these must act each in its own kind or together in their ill-assorted partnership in order to grow and have experience and evolve. The soul gathers the essence of all our mental, vital and bodily experience and assimilates it for the farther evolution of our existence in Nature; but this action is occult and not obtruded on the surface. In the early material and vital stages of the evolution of being there is indeed no consciousness of soul; there are psychic activities, but the instrumentation, the form of these activities are vital and physical,–or mental when the mind is active. For even the mind, so long as it is primitive or is developed but still too external, does not recognise their deeper character. It is easy to regard ourselves as physical beings or beings of life or mental beings using life and body and to ignore the existence of the soul altogether: for the only definite idea that we have of the soul is of something that survives the death of our bodies; but what this is we do not know because even if we are conscious sometimes of its presence, we are not normally conscious of its distinct reality nor do we feel clearly its direct action in our nature.”

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

The Soul in Nature

The first step of the spiritual change in us is the unfolding of the psychic entity, the soul in Nature. This soul is effectively hidden from us while we act on the surface through the instrumentality of the Mind, Life and Body. While this surface instrumentality changes and dies, the soul is constant and persists beyond the life and death of the individual body. Sri Aurobindo describes the soul in the following terms: …”it contains all essential possibilities of our manifestation but is not constituted by them; it is not limited by what it manifests, not contained by the incomplete forms of the manifestation, not tarnished by the imperfections and impurities, the defects and depravations of the surface being. It is an ever-pure flame of the divinity in things and nothing that comes to it, nothing that enters into our experience can pollute its purity or extinguish the flame. This spiritual stuff is immaculate and luminous and, because it is perfectly luminous, it is immediately, intimately, direct aware of truth of being and truth of nature; it is deeply conscious of truth and good and beauty because truth and good and beauty are akin to its own native character, forms of something that is inherent in its own substance. It is aware also of all that contradicts these things, of all that deviates from its own native character, of falsehood and evil and the ugly and the unseemly; but it does not become these things nor is it touched or changed by these opposites of itself which so powerfully affect its outer instrumentation of mind, life and body. For the soul, the permanent being in us, puts forth and uses mind, life and body as its instruments, undergoes the envelopment of their conditions, but is other and greater than its members.”

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