Nature and the Four Primary Powers of Manifestation

The divine manifestation moves from a status without limits or qualities to the development of forms that seem and act to be limited and bound by the qualities, the Gunas. Nature, Prakriti manifests the divine intention using the framework and principles of the limited creation. The intermingling of the three Gunas brings about all the various forms as well as the variety of beings and their varying states of consciousness. Through this action, there are four primary formations that Nature has developed, corresponding to the four great powers, wisdom, force, mutuality and service. Every individual embodies some amount of each of these forces, but depending on the primary characteristics of a specific individual, we see a differentiation that brings about the man of knowledge, the man of power, the man of trade and the man of service. This was the underlying seed or basis upon which the caste system of India was eventually devised, although it was turned into something fully external and rigid, whereas this underlying basis was something internal and fluid.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “But the executive or mechanical Prakriti is of the threefold Guna, Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas, and the Ananta-guna, the spiritual play of infinite quality, modifies itself in this mechanical nature into the type of these three gunas. And in the soul-force in man this Godhead in Nature represents itself as a fourfold effective Power,…, a Power for knowledge, a Power for strength, a Power for mutuality and active and productive relation and interchange, a Power for works and labour and service, and its presence casts all human life into a nexus and inner and outer operation of these four things.”

Sri Aurobindo emphasizes that the focus must be on the inner sense of this action, and not the outer rigid forms into which society has cast them: “…but we have to take it in its inner aspects, first, personality, character, temperament, soul-type, then the soul-force which lies behind them and wears these forms, and lastly the play of the free spiritual Shakti in which they find their culmination and unity beyond all modes. For the crude external idea that a man is born as a Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Sudra and that alone, is not a psychological truth of our being. The psychological fact is that there are these four active powers and tendencies of the Spirit and its executive Shakti within us and the predominance of one or the other in the more well-formed part of our personality gives us our main tendencies, dominant qualities and capacities, effective turn in actino and life. But they are more or less present in all men, here manifest, there latent, here developed, there subdued and depressed or subordinate, and in the perfect man will be raised up to a fullness and harmony which in the spiritual freedom will burst out into the free play of the infinite quality of the spirit in the inner and outer life and in the self-enjoying creative play of the Purusha with his and the world’s Nature-Power.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 15, Soul-Force and the Fourfold Personality, pp. 714-715