The Necessity of Transformation of Human Nature

For most of human existence, there has been a deep divergence between those who seek spiritual development and those who are focused on the material life in the world. In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo describes the two paths as ‘the refusal of the ascetic’ and ‘the materialist denial’. It would seem that either one must abandon the life in the world, and all its difficulties and imperfections, or one must give up on the attempt to gain spiritual wisdom and apply it. The ability to actually integrate the two harmoniously into a spiritual human life has been treated as somewhat of a chimera, as people view human nature as essentially fixed in deeply rooted habits of action and reaction that are virtually impossible to change.

Sri Aurobindo provides a solution to the dilemma posed by these two extremes and the inability to bridge the gap between them, as he describes ‘reality omnipresent.’ There is no necessary disconnect between the spiritual development and the material life, as they both express aspects of the reality within which we all live and grow. The key to the apparent divergence is the evolutionary expression of and development of consciousness. This approach recognises that our current formulation of human nature is not necessarily fixed for all time, but can adapt, grow and change, whether slowly through the process of nature, or more quickly through the conscious participation of the individual seeker.

Clearly there can be no real change of human nature if the seeker simply abandons the life in the world; yet we have countless examples of highly developed spiritual aspirants who, when they have to deal with the world, fall back on the old habitual patterns of mind, life and body. As the evolution of consciousness develops, the higher forces have to develop methods to transform the action of the body-life-mind complex so as to fully and accurately express the higher spiritual intention and energetic implementation. This is the process that Sri Aurobindo calls ‘transformation’ and it proceeds in three steps, the psychic transformation, the spiritual transformation and the supramental transformation.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “If one can remain always in the higher consciousness, so much the better. But why does not one remain always there? Because the lower is still part of the nature and it pulls you down towards itself. If on the other hand, the lower is transformed, it becomes of one kind with the higher and there is nothing lower to pull downward.”

“Transformation means that the higher consciousness or nature is brought down into the mind, vital and body and takes the place of the lower. There is a higher consciousness of the true self, which is spiritual, but it is above; if one rises above into it, then one is free as long as one remains there, but if one comes down into or uses mind, vital or body — and if one keeps any connection with life, one has to do so, either to come down and act from the ordinary consciousness or else to be in the self but use mind, life and body, then the imperfections of these instruments have to be faced and mended — they can only be mended by transformation.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 8, The Triple Transformation: Psychic, Spiritual and Supramental, The Meaning of Transformation, pp. 201-203

Avoiding Dangers of Opening to the Vital Planes

When the protective walls of the surface being give way as the seeker enters the inner planes, access to the vital planes may occur, with all of the beings, powers and forces at work there having suddenly direct interchange with the seeker. Sometimes these forces are intimidating, sometimes, very subtle and manipulative, sometimes helping the seeker, and at other times, attempting to achieve their own goals by controlling or misleading the seeker. Traditional paths of yoga counsel the development of basic controls by the seeker in order to minimize the potential negative impact when one is confronted with the forces at work on other planes and their allurements or enticements. Patanjali formalized this into the practices known as the Yamas and the Niyamas, certain physical and moral practices built in to steady the seeker and help him maintain balance when other powers become directly active. The sages speak about the preparations needed to practice yoga, and they provide the example of the ‘unbaked jar’ which is unable to hold the force when it enters.

Sri Aurobindo approaches these subjects with an approach that seeks to open the psychic and spiritual planes first, supporting the development of the devotion, dedication, and spiritual focus which then can permeate the mind and heart, prior to opening of the centers or chakras that interact with the vital forces and planes of existence.

One of the risks of the traditional approach called ‘kundalini yoga’ is that the force rising up from the base Muladhara Chakra opens upward successively through the various centers of the vital nature before finally reaching the heart, the mind and the levels beyond mind. Imbalance and disorientation can occur that can bring about mental disturbances, emotional disruptions, energetic imbalances and even illness and death. Sri Aurobindo’s approach helps to overcome this danger by providing a solid foundation of directed aspiration, faith and surrender and a mental clarity that understands and appreciates the dangers of the vital opening for an unprepared and unprotected seeker. He also counsels the assistance of an experienced guide at the point any of these openings occur and focuses the seeker on the spiritual actions rather than on trying to actively enter and develop the relation to these vital planes or worlds.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Your three experiences related in your letter mean that you are going out in your vital body into the vital worlds and meeting the beings and formations of these worlds. The old man of the temple and the girls you saw are hostile beings of the vital plane.”

“It is better not to go in this way unless one has the protection of someone (physically present) who has knowledge and power on the vital world. As there is no one there who can do this for you, you should draw back from this movement. Aspire for perfect surrender, calm, peace, light, consciousness and strength in the mind and the heart. When the mental being and the psychic being are thus open, luminous and surrendered, then the vital can open and receive the same illumination. Till then premature adventures on the vital plane are not advisable.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Exteriorisation, pp. 199-200

Out of Body Experiences

Most people, embedded in the physical body and its consciousness, find it difficult, if not impossible, to accept or validate the reality of the out of body experience. At the same time, there are countless anecdotes of people who have an out of body experience, or the related ‘near death experience.’ The descriptions by those who have these experiences are remarkably similar, despite coming from a diverse cross-section of humanity and occurring among people who in many cases have no preconception of the possibility of such an experience. Such an account was related by the famous actress Shirley Maclaine in her book (and film of the same name) Out on a Limb. She was unprepared for the experience, was skeptical, but nevertheless, she was able to depart the physical frame with her vital being, view her physical body waiting and was able to fly off into other places and situations in her vital sheath, leaving the body behind.

People who have out of body experiences relate being able to look down upon their physical body and view its circumstances. In many cases they identify a silver cord that seems to attach their consciousness to the physical body and occult practitioners mention that this cord is the bond between the vital being and the physical body, and that care must be taken to not let it snap, as that would prevent the vital being from reentering the physical frame.

Near death experiences relate the movement of the awareness out of the body, generally towards a brilliant light, leaving the physical body behind. At a certain point, the consciousness moves back into the physical body and what was supposedly a ‘clinical death’ is suddenly reversed and the person revives. Dannion Brinkley in his book Saved by the Light recounts his own experience of clinical death, the traveling of the vital being and his conscious awareness outside the body, and, after receiving guidance, his return to life in the physical body, with a new understanding and mission in his life.

These are illustrative examples, yet there are numerous people who have had similar experiences. In many cases this occurs involuntarily and without the conscious control of the individual; however, there are individuals who indicate that through practices they implement, they can leave the body more or less at will and travel through other planes and worlds.

The physical body, which provides something of a protection from the powers at work on the vital planes, is left behind, and in many cases the individual appears either dead or in some kind of deep trance. This implies that the active consciousness with which one identifies has moved with the vital being out of the physical body, at least temporarily, yet has remained intact with the ego-sense holding the vital form together. The vital worlds, however, harbour forces and beings that, when acting directly in their own native sphere of action can be extremely powerful. This can lead to either an extraordinary sense of upliftment or in some cases a rising of fear or terror in the being when confronted with forces, divine and undivine, of such power.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “When the vital being goes out [of the body], it moves on the vital plane and in the vital consciousness and, even if it is aware of physical scenes and things, it is not with a physical vision. It is possible for one who has trained his faculties to enter into touch with physical things although he is moving about in the vital body, to see and sense them accurately, even to act on them and physically move them. But the ordinary sadhak who has no knowledge or organised experience or training in these things cannot do it. He must understand that the vital plane is different from the physical and that things that happen there are not physical happenings, though, if they are of the right kind and properly understood and used, they may have a meaning and value for the earth life. But also the vital consciousness is full of false formations and many confusions and it is not safe to move among them without knowledge and without a direct protection and guidance.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Exteriorisation, pp. 199-200

Understanding and Avoiding the Lures and Dangers of the Vital Worlds

The importance of preparation of the nature for the spiritual quest, the development of a solid and unshakable aspiration and devotion, and growth of both an understanding and the ability to distinguish what one is seeing and experiencing, cannot be overstated. As the seeker moves into the inner realms of awareness, he may come into contact with vital worlds that represent forces and beings inimical to the spiritual quest. Such worlds may appear tempting as they lure the seeker with visions of power, wealth, sexual gratification, ego-recognition, or enjoyment in other forms, including offering of occult powers or temptations that offer worldly success and benefit. Some of these worlds take on a glittering and alluring form, and may feature sexual attraction, or intoxicating enjoyment fueled by drugs or alcohol, anything to tempt the seeker and divert him from his path of spiritual growth. Various elements in the world we inhabit are pale reflections of the forces at work in the vital worlds, and we can recognise their attraction to the vital being of man through their popularity here in this world.

In his novel Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse has his protagonist enter into the world of the ‘magic theater’ which offers the participant access to all kinds of vital thrills, enjoyment and experience. Sex, drugs, alcohol, gratuitous violence, sadism, all arise in the various worlds he illustrates. An individual ensnared in these worlds finds that the initial sense of superficial beauty and attraction turns into a painful suffering in the end.

Hesse, in his novel Siddhartha illustrates a more subtle, but quite as distracting path when the seeker finds himself following desires and going into business, marrying a beautiful woman and then finding that all of the virtues he had developed in his spiritual path had evaporated and he was left struggling and suffering. The good news for Siddhartha in this novel was that this was an illusory experience provided by his teacher to illustrate, in advance, the dangers of succumbing to the vital enticements of the world. Yet there are vital worlds where such enticements are set forth and the unprepared seeker may easily be led astray if not prepared.

In his story The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Alan Poe shows us the glittering images of a ball with all the vital attractions of glamour, wealth, sex, on display and the participants danced the night away, only to find that they have given themselves into the hands of suffering and death.

Spiritual aspirants throughout history have been confronted with the power and excitement that attends the opening to the vital worlds as they leave the safety and protection of the physical being and journey in the much more fluid and forceful vital realms.

The path of spiritual transformation requires the seeker to maintain balance and remain focused on the goal, without the distractions placed before him either in this world, or in any of the vital worlds that he may come in contact with during his opening of the inner contact and widening of the consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “What you say about the different vital worlds is no doubt interesting and has a certain truth, but you must remember that these worlds, which are different from the true or divine vital, are full of enchantments and illusions and they present appearances of beauty which allure only to mislead or destroy. They are worlds of ‘Rakshasimaya’ and their heavens are more dangerous than their hells. They have to be known and their powers met when need be but not accepted; our business is with the supramental and with the vital only when it is supramentalised and until then we have always to be on our guard against any lures from that other quarter.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Experiences in Dream, pp. 196-199

The Need to Maintain Balance Between Waking, Dream and Sleep Consciousness

The operation of the Gunas of nature, Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas is noticeable in the spiritual quest as in everything else. The result is that when something new or exciting occurs, it tends to provoke the rising of Rajas and an attempt to grasp and enhance the ego-gratification of the event. Rajas however has its limitations and eventually there is a reaction that either brings on the rise of Tamas, in the forms of ignorance, darkness or inaction; or, if balanced, it can bring the rise of Sattwa.

Sri Aurobindo cautions that as real experiences arise in the sleep or dream states, the practitioner of the yoga will be tempted to invest more time and focus on these states than on the activities of the waking state, in order to further the experiences and gain the powers that come with it. He cautions against allowing the encroachment on the province of the waking state; rather, a balance should be developed that keeps each status in its own time and place and works to enhance the process in each one within its own sphere. This requires a sattwic approach to the investigation of the sleep and dream states that avoids the ego self-aggrandisement that the vital nature would otherwise encourage.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “When this growth of the inner sleep consciousness begins, there is often a pull to go inside and pursue the development even when there is no fatigue or need of sleep. Another cause aids this pull. It is usually the vital part of the inner being that first wakes in sleep and the first dream experiences (as opposed to ordinary dreams) are usually, in the great mass, experiences of the vital plane, a world of supraphysical life, full of variety and interest, with many provinces, luminous or obscure, beautiful or perilous, often extremely attractive, where we can get much knowledge too both of our concealed parts of nature and of things happening to us behind the veil and of others which are of concern for the development of our parts of nature. The vital being in us then may get very much attracted to the range of experience, may want to live more in it and less in the outer life. This would be the source of that wanting to get back to something interesting and enthralling which accompanies the desire to fall into sleep. But this must not be encouraged in waking hours, it should be kept for hours set apart for sleep where it gets its natural field. Otherwise there may be an unbalancing, a tendency to live more and too much in the visions of the supraphysical realms and a decrease of the hold on outer realities. The knowledge, the enlargement of our consciousness of these fields of inner nature is very desirable, but it must be kept in its own place and limits.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Experiences in Dream, pp. 196-199

Exploring the Nature of the Dream State

Dreams have kept researchers awake for the entire history of mankind. Where do dreams come from? Of what substance are they made? What significance do they have? The ancient Greek culture had oracles who interpreted dreams. The Old Testament of the Bible recounts the rise of Joseph in the land of Egypt through his ability to interpret the dreams of the Pharoah, and help the land prepare during seven years of plenty for a following seven years of drought. Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar has Caesar’s wife Portia begging him not to attend the Senate on the Ides of March due to a premonitory dream that she had, which of course came true when he was assassinated that day after disregarding her entreaty.

The rise of psychology as a discipline in the West included serious attempts to interpret and understand dreams by Freud and Jung. With considerable numbers of examples, they each brought forward interpretations of dream symbols that clearly indicated that dreams were both real and significant and could be understood with the right key. Modern day psychology relies on technology to study the brain’s activity throughout the sleep state and look at various stages, such as REM sleep, when dreaming was apparently taking place. They measure electrical activity and interpret this to extrapolate what is taking place in the consciousness of the sleeper.

The ancient Rishis, with considerable attention to the inner experience and long personal study of the matter, defined four states of awareness, waking, dream, sleep and the superconscious state of awareness. They treated each status as significant and indicated that the consciousness moved through these various states for experience.

Many people have had the experience that a problem they were unable to solve with their conscious mind was suddenly resolved when they woke the next morning. Where did the solution come from? Similarly, many have had dreams that turn out to be premonitions of future events. We only normally consciously experience a small sampling of the dreams, that is, those that are active at the time of waking, and which thus leave a distinct residue on the waking mind. In many cases, these may seem disjointed or confusing as they are symbolic or even just the compilation of stored up events, emotions and thoughts of the waking awareness.

Practitioners of yoga have different methods of gaining access to conscious awareness during sleep and dream. Through their conscious work to become aware of and interact with the inner planes of consciousness, they become better able to observe, participate in, transcribe and relate dreams. Some dreams are actual teachings by a Master and can be experienced as systematic, comprehensive and powerful new understanding and insights. Others may foretell future meetings, events or experiences. Others may bring forward things that occur on other planes, such as the subtle physical, vital or mental plane. In some cases, those that come from the vital world actually are forces at work in the being, to support or to target the seeker in a hostile manner and in these cases, the intensity and reality of the dream experience goes beyond the kind of confused jumble that are the stuff of many ordinary dreams.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Ordinary dreams are for the most part or seem to be incoherent, because they are either woven by the subconscient out of deep-lying impressions left in it by our past inner and outer life, woven in a fantastic way which does not easily yield any clue of meaning to the waking mind’s remembrance, or are fragmentary records, mostly distorted, of experiences which are going on behind the veil of sleep — very largely indeed these two elements get mixed up together. For, in fact, a large part of our consciousness in sleep does not get sunk into this subconscious state; it passes beyond the veil into other planes of being which are connected with our own inner planes, planes of supraphysical existence, worlds of a larger life, mind or psyche which are there behind and whose influences come to us without our knowledge. Occasionally we get a dream from these planes, something more than a dream, — a dream experience which is a record direct or symbolic of what happens to us or around us there. As the inner consciousness grows by sadhana, these dream experiences increase in number, clearness, coherence, accuracy and after some growth of experience and consciousness, we can, if we observe, come to understand them and their significance to our inner life. Even we can by training become so conscious as to follow our own passage, usually veiled to our awareness and memory, through many realms and the process of the return to the waking state. At a certain pitch of this inner wakefulness this kind of sleep, a sleep of experiences, can replace the ordinary subconscious slumber….”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Experiences in Dream, pp. 196-199

Issues in Understanding the Mechanism of Sleep and Dreams

We spend a large percentage of our lives in the realm of sleep, and the dreams that accompany the sleep state. We have very little actual knowledge of what takes place during our period of sleep, although scientists do extensive studies on the electrical activity in the brain during sleep and the different phases or stages of sleep. Psychologists have also made an extensive study of the patterns of imagery and symbolism that occur in dreams and which seem to either represent a jumbled raising up of impressions of the waking life, or some kind of symbolic messaging that comes about through some kind of universal archetypal repository that we all share.

Given the significance of sleep and dream in our overall lifespan, it is important and highly useful to gain an understanding of the state of consciousness active during sleep. There are stages we call ‘light sleep’, ‘deep sleep’ ‘REM sleep’ as well as transitional stages as the consciousness hovers between sleep and waking. In some cases we can become aware of events in consciousness in the transitional stages as well as partial transcriptions of dreams if we awaken directly from the REM sleep stage that represents a primary dreaming stage of high activity. We can categorize and define these things using our waking ideas, but a true understanding of the deeper significance of sleep and dreams requires us to gain an awareness of the deeper stages of sleep, the purpose of dreams, and the different type of dreams that can occur.

We tend to treat sleep as a kind of ‘death’ inasmuch as we lose our awareness and our ego-consciousness during deep sleep. The questions arise, where does the consciousness go, and what does it do, and in what manner does it return to a waking state? Is it possible to create a link that will allow us to bring the experience of the sleep state into awareness in our waking consciousness?

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Your second experience is a first movement of the awakening of the inner being in sleep. Ordinarily when one sleeps a complex phenomenon happens. The waking consciousness is no longer there, for all has been withdrawn within into the inner realms of which we are not aware when we are awake, though they exist; for then all that is put behind a veil by the waking mind and nothing remains except the surface self and the outward world — much as the veil of the sunlight hides from us the vast worlds of the stars that are behind it. Sleep is a going inward in which the surface self and the outside world are put away from our sense and vision. But in ordinary sleep we do not become aware of the worlds within; the being seems submerged in a deep subconscience. On the surface of this subconscience floats an obscure layer in which dreams take place, as it seems to us, but, more correctly it may be said, are recorded. When we go very deeply asleep, we have what appears to us as a dreamless slumber; but, in fact, dreams are going on, but they are either too deep down to reach the recording surface or are forgotten, all recollection of their having existed even is wiped out in the transition to the waking consciousness.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Experiences in Dream, pp. 196-199

Waking and Sleep, Day and Night

During daytime, we see the sun, the atmosphere and the world around us, and our thoughts and activities, for the most part, are focused on the life of the world. At night, we see the vast ranges of space and the myriad of stars, and can thereby recognise that our world is a small part of a much larger and more complex universal creation. Similarly, our waking mind is preoccupied within the framework and limits of the life of the day, while our sleep state moves beyond these boundaries and can openly participate in the wider reality within which the human waking state is just a small element. During the day, and during the waking state, the larger reality is not withdrawn from us, but remains active and has its influence. This larger reality is, as Sri Aurobindo terms it, “behind the veil” that is thrown up by the waking consciousness to circumscribe our seeing and acting within the limits of that waking state.

The sleep state is therefore an interesting part of life, and for most people can occupy almost 1/3 of their entire time. Clearly sleep cannot be disregarded if we intend to truly understand our lives and purposes in life, just as we cannot ignore the significance of the solar system, the galaxies and the universes when we reflect on the deeper meaning of existence.

The experiences of the sleep state bring us into contact with other realms of consciousness and existence, and they do not follow the type of understanding and rules of knowledge that we use to frame our outward existence. For this reason, to the extent that these experiences are brought into our waking awareness, they frequently are partial or distorted transcriptions that try to bring them into the framework of our mental logic, while they follow other rules and communicate forces not bound within our logical framework.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “In sleep we leave the physical body, only a subconscient residue remaining, and enter all planes and all sorts of worlds. In each we see scenes, meet beings, share in happenings, come across formations, influences, suggestions which belong to these planes. Even when we are awake, part of us moves in these planes, but their activity goes on behind the veil; our waking minds are not aware of it. Dreams are often only incoherent constructions of our subconscient, but others are records (often much mixed and distorted) or transcripts of experiences in these supraphysical planes. When we do sadhana, this kind of dream becomes very common; then subconscious dreams cease to predominate.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Experiences in Dream, pp. 196-199

Understanding the Various Causes of Visions of Deities, Saints and Sages

The transcription of inner events and experiences into our mental framework will generally utilize symbols, images and personalities which fit into our background, education, and experience, so as to build a link and acceptance through use of familiar images. We frequently find recounted the appearance of Jesus or the Virgin Mary to those who follow the Christian faith, while a Hindu may see Krishna (or any other Deity, Saint or Sage in the various traditional forms of worship), and a Buddhist, Lord Buddha. The insights provided thereby are packaged so as to be acceptable to the seeker’s understanding.

Yet, not every experience of this sort is a transcription. In some cases, there may be a real emanation that carries forward the energy and direction of the being. Some enlightened beings have the ability to project themselves, or create an aura of themselves, into multiple locations to be seen by numerous devotees at one time. The Tibetan yogi, Milarepa, at the time of his departure from his physical body, was reported seen by disciples residing at vast distances from one another, and he presented these disciples a final teaching in his physical being. Others may create an ongoing form or formation that resides active at the subtle physical level, impinging upon and influencing the external world and, in particular, guiding seekers who follow their teachings. These forms may have a tenacity that keeps them active long after the physical lifetime of the individual sage or seer.

At other times there may be a conscious force of being from another plane that acts upon the seeker’s awareness and utilizes a familiar visage or form that meets the seeker’s predisposition and background. This may occur, not only for followers of a specific path, but for someone who has a connection through thought, idea or intuition that matches up with that thought. Many seekers have found that viewing a photograph of the teacher or master, or hearing a recording or watching a video presentation of the teacher, can bring the force carried by that teacher into direct action in their inner life. Thus, one may enter into the ‘atmosphere’ of a Master through study of his work or through other means of relation, and thus open up a receptivity that brings about the form of that teacher in the life of the seeker as a bringer of knowledge, intuition, or an opening of some part of the inner being.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “These things [seeing Buddha, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Shankara frequently in vision] are the result of past thoughts and influences. They are of various kinds — sometimes merely thought-forms created by one’s own thought-force to act as a vehicle for some mental realisation — sometimes Powers of different planes that take these forms as a support for their work through the individual, — but sometimes one is actually in communion with that which had the name and form and personality of Buddha or Ramakrishna or Vivekananda or Shankara.”

“It is not necessary to have an element akin to these personalities — a thought, an aspiration, a formation of the mind or vital are enough to create the connection — it is sufficient for a vibration of response anywhere to what these Powers represent.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Symbols, Lights, Colours, Sounds, pp. 193-196

How to Gain an Understanding of the Meaning of Inner Perceptions

As the seeker begins to enter and experience the inner and higher realms of consciousness, he comes into contact with beings, forces, planes and worlds that transcribe experiences into his awareness, yet do not generally function under the same methods and laws that are operative in the normal mind-life-body complex and the world of Matter which we inhabit. This leads to considerable attempts by the mental understanding to apply its normal rules to what it experiences elsewhere, and additionally, to the “filling in’ of data that is missing through the mind’s habitual pattern recognition process. This can lead to a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion, misapplication and misidentification of what is actually occurring and being communicated to the seeker. This issue gets accentuated through intervention of the ego and the vital desire which tries to appropriate the experience to enhance the self-aggrandisement of the individual.

It is essential therefore that the seeker not jump to conclusions about what the significance of any experience, whether it be colour, sound, or touch, may be, but rather, withhold judgment, collect a body of facts over time, and allow the new pattern to form to allow correct identification of what is actually occurring. Sri Aurobindo describes the complexity of the process in discussing the different ways these varying experiences can manifest.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “In interpreting these phenomena [colours seen in vision] you must remember that all depends on the order of things which the colours indicate in any particular case. There is an order of significances in which they indicate various psychological dynamisms, e.g., faith, love, protection, etc. There is another order of significances in which they indicate the aura or the activity of divine beings, Krishna, Mahakali, Radha or else of other superhuman beings; there is another in which they indicate the aura around objects or living persons — and that does not exhaust the list of possibilities. A certain knowledge, experiences, growing intuition are necessary to perceive in each case the true significance. Observation and exact description are also very necessary; for sometimes people say, for instance, yellow when they mean gold or vice versa; there are besides different possible meanings for different shades of the same colour. Again, if you see colour near or round a person or by looking at him or her, it does not necessarily indicate that person’s aura; it may be something else near him or around him. In some cases it may have nothing to do with the person or object you look at, which may serve merely the purpose of a background or a point of concentration — as when you see colours on a wall or by looking at a bright object.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Symbols, Lights, Colours, Sounds, pp. 193-196