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”