The Vital Nature and Its Role in Ordinary Life and Spiritual Life

In the ordinary life in the world, the action of vital desire, and the attempt to fulfill the desires is accepted to such a degree that it is not even consciously noted or treated as anything other than ‘human nature’. Society sets certain customary restraints or limits in order to build a civil framework for interaction of people, and it is only when someone goes outside these limits that the action of desire in an extreme form is noted and condemned. In such an instance, the desire is suppressed in some form, and either through an exercise of will, or through restraint imposed directly by society, such as incarceration or ostracism, the behavior is controlled. This falls under the rubric of a ‘moral code’. Some find new outlets for the energies of the vital that are thus suppressed, and this is called sublimation and this has been the subject of much of modern psychology beginning with the work of Freud and continuing with various enhanced levels of understanding and therapy that have developed in the post-Freudian era.

For the spiritual seeker, the issue is not one of ‘morality’ per se, but one of working out and redirecting the energy of the vital being into entirely new channels of action. The result may seem like adherence to a moral code, but in fact, it goes far beyond morality by addressing the underlying motivations and redirecting them to carry out the divine intention and not simply controlling or suppressing the vital urges that drive the ordinary life forward..

Sri Aurobindo writes: “In the ordinary life people accept the vital movements, anger, desire, greed, sex, etc. as natural, allowable and legitimate things, part of the human nature. Only so far as society discourages them or insists to keep them within fixed limits or subject to a decent restraint or measure, people try to control them so as to conform to the social standard of morality or rule of conduct. Here, on the contrary, as in all spiritual life, the conquest and complete mastery of these things is demanded. That is why the struggle is more felt, not because these things rise more strongly in sadhaks than in ordinary men, but because of the intensity of the struggle between the spiritual mind which demands control and the vital movements which rebel and want to continue in the new as they did in the old life. As for the idea that the sadhana raises up things of the kind, the only truth in that is this that, first, there are many things in the ordinary man of which he is not conscious, because the vital hides them from the mind and gratifies them without the mind realising what is the force that is moving the action — thus things that are done under the plea of altruism, philanthropy, service, etc. are largely moved by ego which hides itself behind these justifications; in yoga the secret motive has to be pulled out from behind the veil, exposed and got rid of. Secondly, some things are suppressed in the ordinary life and remain lying in the nature, suppressed but not eliminated; they may rise up any day or they may express themselves in various nervous forms or other disorders of the mind or vital or body without it being evident what is their real cause. This has been recently discovered by European psychologists and much emphasised, even exaggerated in a new science called psycho-analysis. Here again, in sadhana one has to become conscious of these suppressed impulses and eliminate them — this may be called rising up, but that does not mean that they have to be raised up into action but only raised up before the consciousness so as to be cleared out of the being.”

“As for some men being able to control themselves and others being swept away, that is due to difference of temperament. Some men are sattwic and control comes easy to them, up to a certain point at least; others are more rajasic and find control difficult and often impossible. Some have a strong mind and mental will and others are vital men in whom the vital passions are stronger and more on the surface. Some do not think control necessary and let themselves go. In sadhana the mental or moral control has to be replaced by the spiritual mastery — for that mental control is only partial and it controls but does not liberate; it is only the psychic and spiritual that can do that. That is the main difference in this respect between the ordinary and the spiritual life.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Vital, pp. 246-259

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