The Need for Transformation of the Vital in the Practice of the Integral Yoga

Can human nature be changed? We are exhorted to be kinder, more compassionate, less egoistic, more rational in our relationships with others and our actions in the world. When we try to actually carry out these things, we find that, for the most part, our vital instincts and drives still control our actions, and our mind tends to find excuses for, and support, the fulfillment of these drives. The vital is a powerful part of human nature and does not easily give up its habitual satisfactions.

We have recognised the difficulty associated with letting the vital do whatever it wants, and humanity has therefore tried numerous strategies including attempts at suppression, attempts at imposing reason and rationality on the reactions, attempted indifference, isolation and seclusion, essentially representing abandonment of the active life, and various forms of ethical or moral rule-making to circumscribe and manage the vital’s activity. Some have resorted to torturing the body physically when various desires or urges arise, and of course, others take the view that it is unnatural to try to suppress the vital and therefore, one should simply let these ‘natural’ expressions take place. Some try sublimation or shifting the focus of the energy to other, higher forms of endeavour. All of the various methods, however, have failed to get to the root of the issue, which is the nexus of the ego-personality and the desire-soul of the vital.

As the evolution of consciousness develops through time, new powers of understanding and action come into play, and thus, things that seemed impossible previously can now be accomplished. Witness the vast changes the development of the mind has wrought for life on the planet, both those that seem positive and those that are negative, to understand the power of a new level of consciousness on the earlier evolved levels. With the advent of the spiritual and supramental level of evolutionary development, we can expect that the control exercised by the vital in the past and present will be finally subject to real change.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Most men are, like animals, driven by the forces of Nature: whatever desires come, they fulfil them, whatever emotions come they allow them to play, whatever physical wants they have, they try to satisfy. We say then that the activities and feelings of men are controlled by their Prakriti, and mostly by the vital and physical nature. The body is the instrument of the Prakriti or Nature — it obeys its own nature or it obeys the vital forces of desire, passion, etc.”

“But man also has a mind and, as he develops, he learns to control his vital and physical nature by his reason and by his will. This control is very partial: for the reason is often deluded by vital desires and the ignorance of the physical and it puts itself on their side and tries to justify by its ideas, reasonings or arguments their mistakes and wrong movements. Even if the reason keeps free and tells the vital or the body, ‘Do not do this’, yet the vital and the body often follow their own movement in spite of the prohibition — man’s mental will is not strong enough to compel them.”

“When people do sadhana, there is a higher nature that works within, the psychic and spiritual, and they have to put their nature under the influence of the psychic being and the higher spiritual self or of the Divine. Not only the vital and the body but the mind also has to learn the Divine Truth and obey the divine rule. But because of the lower nature and its continued hold on them, they are unable at first and for a long time to prevent their nature from following the old ways — even when they know or are told from within what to do or what not to do. It is only by persistent sadhana, by getting into the higher spiritual consciousness and spiritual nature that this difficulty can be overcome; but even for the strongest and best sadhaks it takes a long time.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Vital, Transforming the Vital, pp. 69-85

Overcoming the Reaction of Jealousy

Jealousy is one of those deeply rooted vital reactions that are not amenable to being “convinced” to change by mental logic. Highly educated, refined individuals are also subject to jealousy when appropriate circumstances arise, and as with other such deeply rooted reactions, the vital overpowers the mental will. As Sri Aurobindo has pointed out elsewhere, the vital also has the ability to convince the mind to ‘understand’ and ‘support’ its wishes, and thus, we see numerous justifications coming up for why jealousy is actually a manifestation of some positive characteristic, or is at the very least, a basic and unchangeable element in human nature. For many, this means that there cannot be any real change that does away with the jealous reaction.

Sri Aurobindo, however, reminds us that these vital reactions are intimately connected to the ego-personality. Thus, the true solution to overcoming jealousy and other similar vital reactions is to shift the consciousness away from the ego to the divine consciousness. This occurs through the coming forward of the psychic being to guide the mind, life and body, and through the shifting of the awareness to the witness consciousness that has its basis in the divine consciousness.

When an individual no longer associates himself with a specific ego-personality, but with the divine manifestation, there is no basis for any feelings of jealousy. He sees all movement of forces, all relationships from this new standpoint and understands the play of forces and energies without the attachment of any of them to his own existence or reality.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “It is of course the old reaction — jealousy is certainly there, or you would not feel this violent sorrow. That it subsists still in the recesses and rises with such vehemence shows how deeply rooted this movement was in your physical consciousness. You have not been able to root it out because when it comes you associate yourself entirely with it and abandon yourself to its outcries and violence. You must have the strength to stand back from it in that part of your nature which is free — only then will you be able to push it away from you; and it is only if it is pushed away from you each time it rises that it will consent to disappear and return no more.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Vital, Jealousy, pp. 68-69