The Role, Nature and Action of the Physical Mind

If we reflect on the amount of time and focus we give to organizing and living our external physical lives, dealing with food, shelter, clothing, comforts of various sorts, entertainment, travel, family and friends, it becomes clear that a considerable part, indeed the greatest part, of our time and attention is spent on addressing the outer life. The mentality operative to undertake this focus is what Sri Aurobindo terms the ‘physical mind’ as he distinguishes it from the vital mind which focuses on fulfillment of desires, ambitions, and various vital and emotional energies, and from the mental intelligence proper which concerns itself with issues not directly related to the immediate external life, including theoretical pursuits, speculations, philosophy, religious contemplation, art and spiritual pursuits, science and higher forms of conceptualisation about the nature, purpose and functioning of the universal creation.

The physical mind does not employ these higher functions of the mentality and tends to react in a relatively straightforward and altogether transactional manner without reflection, introspection or self-examination. This may cause altercations, disputes and outbreak of fighting when someone or something gets between the individual operating from the physical mind, and its objects.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The physical mind is that which is fixed on physical objects and happenings, sees and understands these only, and deals with them according to their own nature, but can with difficulty respond to the higher forces. Left to itself, it is sceptical of the existence of supraphysical things, of which it has no direct experience and to which it can find no clue; even when it has spiritual experiences, it forgets them easily, loses the impression and result and finds it difficult to believe. To enlighten the physical mind by the consciousness of the higher spiritual and supramental planes is one object of this yoga, just as to enlighten it by the power of the higher vital and higher mental elements of the being is the greatest part of human self-development, civilisation and culture.”

“It [the physical mind] is the instrument of understanding and ordered action on physical things. Only instead of being obscure and ignorant and fumbling as now or else guided only by an external knowledge it has to become conscious of the Divine and to act in accordance with an inner light, will and knowledge putting itself into contact and an understanding unity with the physical world.”

“Of course most men live in their physical mind and vital, except a few saints and a rather larger number of intellectuals. That is why, as it is now discovered, humanity has made little progress in the last three thousand years, except in information and material equipment. A little less cruelty and brutality perhaps, more plasticity of the intellect in the elite, a quicker habit of change in forms, that is all.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Mind, pp. 240-245

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