Three Parts of the Outer Being: Mental, Vital and Physical

Once an individual recognises that there are three separate foundations of consciousness in the outer being, and that they are not simply part of one unified awareness, it becomes much easier to untangle the numerous strands of pressure internally and understand how to address and deal with the inner issues, conflicts, obstructions and difficulties. How many people struggle with issues such as kicking an addiction, or losing weight, only to blame themselves for a lack of will-power, when in fact it is not the will-power of the mind that is the issue, but some other physical or vital cause. This perspective opens up avenues for resolving long-standing issues. For instance, when one recognises that cravings of hunger may be caused by purely physical issues including pharmaceutical drugs one is taking for various health conditions, or nutritional deficiencies or malfunction of organs (or many other physical causes), the emotional distress and mental suffering that accompanies the belief that it is one’s own lack of will that causes the issue can be relieved, and thus, another accentuating cause of ’emotional eating’ can be released.

Similarly, one can see that many vital disruptions are actually caused by the influence of energetic forces directly impinging on the vital nature. In many cases, the individual later admits that he did “not know what came over him, it was not like him to do the thing he did.” The force of the vital can overwhelm the best intentions in the mind under certain circumstances.

One can also observe that the mind gets a fixed idea and is so focused on carrying it out, that it loses perspective, in some cases actually torturing the vital being or the physical body in a mistaken idea that its idea must be carried out regardless of the readiness of the rest of the being.

The understanding of the various parts of the being provides needed leverage for accomplishing actual change through skillful means, as one gains an understanding of the differing ways these parts learn, respond and grow, and thus, one can tailor the focus on change to meet the actual circumstances one is faced with internally.

Dr. Dalal writes: “The three parts of the being referred to above — mental, vital, physical — constitute the outer being, each part having its own distinct nature and characteristics. Below is a brief description of each of these three parts in Sri Aurobindo’s words:

“… in the language of this yoga the words ‘mind’ and ‘mental’ are used to connote specially the part of the nature which has to do with cognition and intelligence, with ideas, with mental or thought perceptions, the reactions of thought to things, with the truly mental movements and formations, mental vision and will, etc., that are part of the intelligence. The vital has to be carefully distinguished from mind, even though it has a mind element transfused into it; the vital is the Life-nature made up of desires, sensations, feelings, passions, energies of actions, will of desire, reactions of the desire-soul in man and of all that play of possessive and other related instincts, anger, fear, greed, lust, etc., that belong to this field of the nature. Mind and vital are mixed up on the surface of the consciousness, but they are quite separate forces in themselves and as soon as one gets behind the ordinary surface consciousness one sees them as separate, discovers their distinction and can with the aid of this knowledge analyse their surface mixtures.”

“The body… has its own consciousness and acts from it, even without any mental will of our own or even against that will, and our surface mind knows very little about this body-consciousness, feels it only in an imperfect way, sees only its results and has the greatest difficulty in finding out their causes.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction, Parts of the Being, pp. x – xiii

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