The psychological movement that takes the seeker out of the totally “involved” experience of the outer consciousness toward a stance as the witness consciousness able to separate himself from the action of mind, life and body, is an important first step. It is, however, a step that takes time to be fully integrated and constant, and in the interim, the seeker undergoes periods of immersion back into the outer life without this separate awareness, and then returns again to the standpoint of the witness.
This standpoint can take three major forms when interacting with the outer life. These are called the Mental Purusha, manomaya purusha, the Vital Purusha, pranamaya purusha, and the Physical Purusha, annamaya purusha.
Sri Aurobindo describes the specific poise when the soul takes the standpoint of one or another of these aspects: “He can have an intuition of himself as a soul in body, which puts forth life as its activity and mind as the light of that activity. This soul in body is the physical conscious being…which uses life and mind characteristically for physical experience,–does not look beyond the life of the body and, so far as it feels anything beyond its physical individuality, is aware only of the physical universe and at most its oneness with the soul of physical Nature.”
“But he can have too an intuition of himself as a soul of life, self-identified with a great movement of becoming in Time, which puts forth body as a form or basic sense-image and mind as a conscious activity of life-experience. This soul in life is the vital conscious being…which is capable of looking beyond the duration and limits of the physical body, of feeling an eternity of life behind and in front, an identity with a universal Life-being, but does not look beyond a constant vital becoming in Time.”
As to the mental Purusha, “The involution in the outward action becomes now only a recurrent self-oblivion from which there is a tendency in him to draw back again to himself and to pure self-experience.” The mental Purusha sees himself as a mental being utilizing the life force and the body as instruments to experience and carry out the ideas and thoughts that rule in the mind.
“These three Purushas are soul-forms of the Spirit by which it identifies its conscious existence with and founds its action upon any of these three planes or principles of its universal being.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 4, The Perfection of the Mental Being, pp. 608-609