For the most part, we react to things without considering the source of the impression that sparks the reaction, the process of the reaction or the manner in which the impression is converted into a response. These things simply “happen” and we tend to accept them as ‘human nature’ or, in some cases, ‘my nature’ with the implication that not everyone will react the same way. Because this process tends to take place more or less through subconscious reaction, we also find it next to impossible to effectuate changes that modify the reactions, or else, we struggle with an attempt to employ a ‘brute force’ application of will power on the reactions we want to change. Many people believe that human nature is essentially fixed and efforts at change are more or less illusory and bound to fail. They use the illustration of the impossibility of trying to straighten out a dog’s tail, which continues to revert to its original position.
Our vital nature in particular can be very demanding with regard to fulfilling the desires that arise, and oftentimes finds ways to mislead the mind into supporting these desires, in some cases through disguising the underlying true motives of action that drive the external activity.
The dictum ‘knowledge is power’ provides a key for us to address these vital movements. Everything that occurs in our existence has a cause and an effect. This is variously known as the “law of karma” or in Buddhist terms, “dependent origination”. It is therefore possible to actually trace the underlying causes of a reaction and thereby understand the source and motivation that is driving the action. We then can become conscious rather than unconscious actors. Becoming conscious provides leverage to change the action, but itself requires the development of a standpoint that is independent of and stands outside of the reactive body-life-mind complex. Even so, the process of change does not occur overnight and requires patience and persistence to eventually succeed.
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.”
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Becoming More Conscious, pp. 2-5