Understanding and Distinguishing the Complex Makeup of Human Nature

Everything we experience is filtered through the mind. For daily life, it may not be essential to go much deeper into the question, although even there some amount of awareness can be helpful, such as when one experiences pain, the actual cause needs to be determined to resolve the issue properly. When one confronts the need to bring about change and gain mastery over our lives, which is one of the aims of the integral yoga, then it becomes essential to understand from whence particular thoughts, feelings, emotions, impulses, perceptions arise and their causes so that an appropriate line of action or response can be determined.

Medical practitioners in particular find it necessary to distinguish the source of any symptom. One reports a headache, and the practitioner will set about to try and determine which of the hundreds of potential causes has created the headache. Is it caused by a particular type of daily stress, what we call a tension headache, or is it possibly due to a digestive failure or has there been a blow to the head, or possibly a tumor or a stroke? Is there an organ system that has a serious chronic problem? Only after the cause is determined can the appropriate treatment be recommended.

When a seeker attempts to meditate, there is the experience that the bodily discomforts, nervous impulses, feelings of hunger or thirst, fear, anxiety, the hankerings of desires and plans for the future all come to the forefront. The seeker then reports that there is no way to control the running of the unruly mind and develops strategies to observe but not get involved, or turn the attention elsewhere and disregard these rising impressions or thoughts. From another perspective however it becomes possible to actually dramatically reduce the disruptions to the meditation when one recognizes the different parts of the being and begins to untangle the knot of impulses that seem impossible to sort out in the mind. Experienced practitioners have given advice based on a deeper understanding when they tell the seeker to choose a comfortable seat in a location that is neither too hot nor too cold, nor too dry or damp or windy, without excessive noise or visual distractions, and not to undertake excessive fasting nor excessive eating or drinking, to practice moderation in one’s life habits and cultivate equanimity. These represent ways of bringing the body and its needs into balance, the nervous sheath into a state of calm and the emotions into harmony, thus freeing the mind of the seeker to focus the attention on the true object of the meditation.

Sri Aurobindo takes up the issue of the parts of the being and the origination of impulses experienced in the mind in great detail. Extensive review led him to describe the different parts and planes of the being, their various ways of acting and reacting and the way to distinguish between them when impulses arise in the mind.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Men do not know themselves and have not learned to distinguish the different parts of their being; for these are usually lumped together by them as mind, because it is through a mentalised perception and understanding that they know or feel them; therefore they do not understand their own states and actions, or, if at all, then only on the surface. It is part of the foundation of yoga to become conscious of the great complexity of our nature, see the different forces that move it and get over it a control of directing knowledge. We are composed of many parts each of which contributes something to the total movement of our consciousness, our thought, will, sensation, feeling, action, but we do not see the origination or the course of these impulsions; we are aware only of their confused and pell-mell results on the surface upon which we can at best impose nothing better than a precarious shifting order.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 48-51

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