The Triple Action of the Normal Thought-Mind

Sri Aurobindo identifies three distinct levels or gradations of action of the normal thought-mind of the human individual.  These correspond roughly to the interaction between the mind and the physical, the pragmatic mind of development in the interaction between mind and life , and the mind acting on the purely mental level.

“First and lowest and most necessary to the mental being in the body is the habitual thought mind that founds its ideas upon the data given by the senses and by the surface experiences of the nervous and emotional being and on the customary notions formed by the education and the outward life and environment.  This habitual mind has two movements, one a kind of constant undercurrent of mechanically recurrent thought always repeating itself in the same round of physical, vital, emotional, practical and summarily intellectual notion and experience, the other more actively working upon all new experience that the mind is obliged to admit and reducing it to formulas of habitual thinking.  The mentality of the average man is limited by this habitual mind and moves very imperfectly outside its circle.”

A second grade of the thinking activity is the pragmatic idea mind that lifts itself above life and acts creatively as a mediator between the idea and the life-power, between truth of life and truth of the idea not yet manifested in life.  it draws material from life and builds out of it and upon it creative ideas that become dynamic for farther life development: on the other side it receives new thought and mental experience from the mental plane or more fundamentally from the idea power of the Infinite and immediately turns it into mental idea force and a power for actual being and living….The thought is only or mainly interesting to the soul on this mental level as a means for a large range of action and experience.”

A third gradation of thinking opens in us the pure ideative mind which lives disinterestedly in truth of the idea apart from any necessary dependence on its value for action and experience.  it views the data of the senses and the superficial inner experiences, but only to find the idea, the truth to which they bear witness and to reduce them into terms of knowledge.  It observes the creative power of mind in life in the same way and for the same purpose.  Its preoccupation is with knowledge, its whole object is to have the delight of ideation, the search for truth, the effort to know itself and the world and all that may life behind its own action and the world action.  This ideative mind is the highest reach of the intellect acting for itself, characteristically, in its own power and for its own purpose.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 23, The Supramental Instruments — Thought-process , pp. 811-812