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”

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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”

Necessity of the Triple Transformation

We can see beings which represent, in their very nature, the various principles of Matter, Life, and Mind (with the gradations that occur within each of these principles). To date, however, the principle of the Supermind, the next gradation of consciousness that is beyond that of Mind, has only shown glimpses and influences, and not yet established itself in a representative being that operates from that principle primarily, as Man operates at the level of Mind, for instance, as a characteristic action.

Sri Aurobindo describes the current status: “The development of another instrumentation has begun, but has yet to become total and effective; it has besides to cease to be a purely individual self-creation in an original Ignorance, something supernormal to earth-life that must always be acquired as an individual achievement by a difficult endeavor. It must become the normal nature of a new type of being; as Mind is established here on a basis of Ignorance seeking for Knowledge and growing into Knowledge, so Supermind must be established here on a basis of Knowledge growing into its own greater Light. But this cannot be so long as the spiritual-mental being has not risen fully to Supermind and brought down its powers into terrestrial existence. For the gulf between Mind and Supermind has to be bridged, the closed passages opened and roads of ascent and descent created where there is now a void and a silence.”

In order to accomplish these steps to establish the next gradation of Consciousness as an active inherent principle of earth-life, Sri Aurobindo indicates that a triple transformation is required, in which there must be first, “the psychic change, the conversion of our whole present nature into a soul-instrumentation”; then, “the spiritual change, the descent of a higher Light, Knowledge, Power, Force, Bliss, Purity into the whole being, even into the lowest recesses of the life and body, even into the darkness of our subconscience; and third, “there must supervene the supramental transmutation,–there must take place as the crowning movement the ascent into the Supermind and the transforming descent of the supramental Consciousness into our entire being and nature.”

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

The Goal of Evolutionary Nature

Sri Aurobindo points out that if it is the goal of Nature to awaken man to awareness of the supreme Reality and liberate him from the action of Nature in the world, then all the elements of this liberation have already been put in place and there is really nothing more to be done; rather, as each human being evolves to the right place in their development, they need only exercise the “liberation” and move beyond the manifested world. This however is not the end or goal that Sri Aurobindo has envisioned, and thus, we have not yet reached the full capability of the evolutionary process in the world. “But we have supposed that there is a farther intention,–not only a revelation of the Spirit, but a radical and integral transformation of Nature. There is a will in her to effectuate a true manifestation of the embodied life of the Spirit, to complete what she has begun by a passage from the Ignorance to the Knowledge, to throw off her mask and to reveal herself as the luminous Consciousness-Force carrying in her the eternal Existence and its universal Delight of being.”

A few have become aware of their souls, the way of liberation has been prepared, but we do not yet see the “complete and radical change which establishes a secure and settled new principle, a new creation, a permanent new order of being in the field of terrestrial Nature. The spiritual man has evolved, but not the supramental being who shall thenceforward be the leader of that Nature.”

The goal of evolutionary Nature, as seen in our previous review of the systematic development, layering and inter-penetration of successively more powerful, higher gradations of consciousness, is to bring about an ever more conscious manifestation as each new gradation is introduced and establishes itself. Thus far we have seen the principles of Matter, Life and Mind, with a first glimmering of the next level of consciousness, the supramental, beginning to make itself felt. In order to bring about a conscious, self-aware manifestation expressing the divine Truth in an unalloyed manner, the evolution of the supramental consciousness is required. This consciousness can bring about the transformation of Nature such that there is a conscious expression of the deeper spiritual meaning and truth in the manifested world.

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

Introduction to the Triple Transformation: The Evolutionary Intention of Nature

We begin today our review of the next chapter, The Triple Transformation. As has been his practice, Sri Aurobindo begins the chapter with citations from Veda, Upanishad and Gita. It is appropriate to review these citations as they provide insight to the focus of the chapter.

“A conscious being is the centre of the self, who rules past and future; he is like a fire without smoke….That, one must disengage with patience from one’s own body.” Katha Upanishad, II.1.12, 13; II.3.17

“An intuition in the heart sees that truth.” Rig Veda, I.24.12

“I abide in the spiritual being and from there destroy the darkness born of ignorance with the shining lamp of knowledge.” Bhagavad Gita, X.11

“These rays are directed downwards, their foundation is above: may they be set deep within us….O Varuna, here awake, make wide thy reign; may we abide in the law of thy workings and be blameless before the Mother Infinite.” Rig Veda, I.24,7,11,15

“The Swan that settles in the purity….born of the Truth,–itself the Truth, the Vast.” Katha Upanishad, II.2.2

In these citations we see references to a process of acquiring knowledge, founded above, extending itself below into the life here at the gradations of mind, life and body, through a process of identification, distinguishing and associating ourselves with the consciousness of the spiritual being around which our outer nature and life has been formed and developed.

The transformation that Sri Aurobindo is discussing in this chapter is a spiritual transformation, that has the capacity of directing and uplifting the life we lead.

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

Diversity in Oneness

Because of our foundation in the material and mental levels of consciousness, we tend to try to systematise and unify everything in such a way that we want things to be “black and white”. We want everyone to accept the same logic, the same direction, the same goal, the same methodologies, and we treat anyone who differs in their approach or conclusions or the language they use to describe their experience as simply “wrong”. This has led to unfortunate results such as crusades, ethnic cleansing, religious warfare, conversions, religious suppression, excommunications, holy inquisitions and other similar attempts to suppress one line of expression or experience in favor of another. Sri Aurobindo takes strong exception to this attempt to “unify” through uniformity.

“In the evolution of the spiritual man there must necessarily be many stages and in each stage a great variety of individual formations of the being, the consciousness, the life, the temperament, the ideas, the character. The nature of instrumental mind and the necessity of dealing with the life must of itself create an infinite variety according to the stage of development and the individuality of the seeker. But, apart from that, even the domain of pure spiritual self-realisation and self-expression need not be a single white monotone, here can be a great diversity in the fundamental unity; the supreme Self is one, but the souls of the Self are many and, as is the soul’s formation of nature, so will be its spiritual self-expression. A diversity in oneness is the law of the manifestation; the supramental unification and integration must harmonise these diversities, but to abolish them is not the intention of the Spirit in Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 24, “The Evolution of the Spiritual Man”