Chitta and the Emotional Mind

Sri Aurobindo observes: “But in fact all action of the mind or inner instrument arises out of this Chitta or basic consciousness, partly conscient, partly subconscient or subliminal to our active mentality. When it is struck by the world’s impacts from outside or urged by the reflective powers of the subjective inner being, it throws up certain habitual activities, the mould of which has been determined by our evolution. One of these forms of activity is the emotional mind,–the heart, as we may call it for the sake of a convenient brevity.”

The emotional mind is made up of inputs from the physical/vital sense-impressions impacting the Chitta, with an input from the higher mentality, that reacts and responds to these impressions. Whereas we can find in physical nature certain fixed relations that we call “laws of nature”, the response by the mentality in the emotional mind is governed by habit, but can in fact not be called “laws of nature”. These habits can be identified and changed through pressure from the higher mentality or the spiritual force acting on the nature.

Sri Aurobindo explains the dynamic: “Our emotions are the waves of reaction and response which rise up from the basic consciousness, cittavrtti. Their action too is largely regulated by habit and an emotive memory. They are not imperative, not laws of Necessity; there is no really binding law of our emotional being to which we must submit without remedy; we are not obliged to give responses of grief to certain impacts upon the mind, responses of anger to others, to yet others responses of hatred or dislike, to others responses of liking or love. All these things are only habits of our affective mentality; they can be changed by the conscious will of the spirit; they can be inhibited; we may even rise entirely above all subjection to grief, anger, hatred, the duality of liking and disliking. We are subject to these things only so long as we persist in subjection to the mechanical action of the Chitta in the emotive mentality, a thing difficult to get rid of because of the power of past habit and especially the importunate insistence of the vital part of mentality, the nervous life-mind or psychic Prana.”

Many philosophical and spiritual traditions around the world have developed methods to try to overcome this habitual linkage of emotional reaction to sense-impression and event. The stoics used will-power to suppress the reaction. Great religious leaders have asked us to re-learn these past habits and return love for hatred for example, or compassion and gratitude in place of anger or the force of desire.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “And yet the true emotive soul, the real psyche in us, is not a desire-soul, but a soul of pure love and delight; but that, like the rest of our true being, can only emerge when the deformation created by the life of desire is removed from the surface and is no longer the characteristic action of our being. To get that done is a necessary part of our purification, liberation, perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 5, The Instruments of the Spirit, pp. 621-622