When one takes up the practice of Yoga, one of the first issues to arise is how to deal with the force of desire. Desire for family, wealth, food, sex, power all are attractions with which the seeker must grapple. In order to truly solve this issue, the seeker needs to understand the actual relation between desire and his life in the physical body.
For most people, the arising of desires and the attempt to fulfill them does not lead to any self-reflection. It is just considered to be a natural process. This viewpoint actually has given impetus to the line of thought that believes the solution is to withdraw from active life in the world, thereby not giving any opportunity for the fulfillment of desires, as well as the more extreme paths which ask the seeker to “mortify” himself in order to provide a negative feedback loop whenever any kind of desire arises within him.
Sri Aurobindo takes a deeper view of the situation and points out that the vital world, or “desire-world” is actually the creator of the material world, infuses its energies and values into the physical world for its own purposes, and contains forces and beings who are constituted to work out and carry out various aspects of vital fulfillment. “In fact, the material world is really a sort of projection from the vital, a thing which it has thrown out and separated from itself in order to embody and fulfil some of its desires under conditions other than its own, which are yet the logical result of its own most material longings. Life on earth may be said to be the result of the pressure of this life-world on the material, inconscient existence of the physical universe.”
Most people when they think about other worlds or planes of existence, or “locations” such as heaven or hell, treat these as if they are physical locations outside or separate from the world within which we live and function. Sri Aurobindo observes that the vital worlds, and also the mental and other higher worlds are not geographically distant, but actually represent subtler sheathes which infuse and co-exist on a subtler level right here, and that there are interactions between these worlds and our world of physical existence. “The influences of the life-world are always pouring out on the material existence and producing there their powers and results which return again upon the life-world to modify it. From that the life-part in us, the desire-part is being always touched and influenced; there too are beneficent and malefic powers of good desire and evil desire which concern themselves with us even when we are ignorant of and unconcerned with them.”
Just as we have forms of conscious awareness in our physically-predominant world, so there are also conscious beings on each of the other planes, formed and acting from their predominant principle, in this case, the vital principle with its desire-fulfillment needs. “As we awaken to the higher planes of our existence, we become aware of them as friends or enemies, powers which seek to possess or which we can master, overcome, pass beyond and leave behind.”
In order, therefore to truly begin to address the action of desire upon the seeker through Yoga, these relations must be understood. “For the supra-material is as much a reality as the existence of mental beings in the material universe.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 19, The Planes of Our Existence, pp. 434-435