The path of Knowledge starts from the discriminating higher intellect, the part of the being generally most closely identified as a truly human capacity, as opposed to the evolutionary stages of animals. The Reason sets about to find, through a process of intellectual analysis and review, the real truth of our existence. It may start with a seemingly simple question such as “who am I” (the method used by the great sage Ramana Maharshi) or it may go through a series of steps or stages to find ever subtler causal levels of our gross material bodies and vital activities. In the Taittiriya Upanishad for instance, Bhrigu was led by his father through 5 stages of understanding when he was asked to “Seek thou to know that from which these creatures are born, whereby being born they live and to which they go hence and enter again; for that is the Eternal.”
With this conceptual framework, he was asked to concentrate himself in thought, energizing the power of mental consciousness within himself. He started by identifying the material sheath, then moved to the vital sheath, the mental sheath, the knowledge sheath and eventually the bliss sheath, in each case, finding an ever finer and more subtle causal level for existence. (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, Chapter 1, pg. 275)
Sri Aurobindo sums up the result: “It observes and distinguishes the different elements of our apparent or phenomenal being and rejecting identification with each of them arrives at their exclusion and separation in one common term as constituents of Prakriti, of phenomenal Nature, creations of Maya, the phenomenal consciousness.” This leads to identification with the Self, aloof and separate from the created universe for most seekers. The world is seen more or less as an illusion or a lesser reality.
Sri Aurobindo points out that this is not, however, necessarily the only result. One may come to recognize that the individual self and seeking is not the entire answer; that there is a universal self and being and that the universal creation is Real, is One with Brahman and thus, can lead to realisation of “…the phenomenal aspects of the world as a play of the divine consciousness and not something entirely alien to its true nature.”
“Such a method might well lead to the elevation of the whole range of human intellect and perception to the divine level, to its spiritualisation and to the justification of the cosmic travail of knowledge in humanity.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Introduction: The Conditions of the Synthesis, Chapter 4, The Systems of Yoga, pg. 33