Comparing Current General State of Human Consciousness With More Evolved States, Part 3 Dispersed Versus Gathered Consciousness

Distraction is actually a symptom of another characteristic, that of “dispersion” of the consciousness. If we take the time to observe our own sense of awareness we find that it seems to be primarily on the surface of our being, receiving sense perceptions, reacting to people, things, events and circumstances and otherwise busying itself with all the details of the external life. From time to time we may experience a centred, indrawn state of awareness where we feel ourselves to be ‘self-contained’, so to speak, and thus, at peace. We may also meet people, from time to time, who seem to have a powerful presence without, however, any overt action on their part. We feel the concentrated nature of their being. This is different from those who actively assert their power in situations and who try to control or overwhelm others through active intervention in the relationship. On the contrary, those who are simply ‘present’ with a powerful sense of a consciousness that is alert, gathered, and ‘grounded’ exert a subtle influence on their surroundings without trying.

Dr. Dalal observes: “Associated with distraction is another characteristic of the normal state of consciousness, alluded to in the passage just quoted above, namely dispersion. In the normal state, consciousness is scattered, so to speak, in the superficial parts and movements of the being — physical, vital and mental. As the Mother observes: “One throws oneself out all the time; all the time one lives, as it were, outside oneself, in such a superficial sensation that it is almost as though one were outside oneself. As soon as one wants even to observe oneself a little, control oneself a little, simply know what is happening, one is always obliged to draw back or pull towards oneself, to pull inwards something which is constantly like that, on the surface. And it is this surface thing which meets all external contacts, puts you in touch with similar vibrations coming from others. That happens almost outside you. That is the constant dispersal of the ordinary consciousness.”

Dr. Dalal concludes: “The dispersed nature of the normally pervading consciousness stands in sharp contrast to the in-gathered and collected nature of the deeper consciousness.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. vi-vii

Comparing Current General State of Human Consciousness With More Evolved States, Part 2 Distractability Versus Concentratedness

With even a very cursory examination of the thoughts and sensations that enter our awareness, it becomes quite clear that there is a constant flow of sensations, impressions, perceptions, feelings, emotions and thoughts that seem to bombard us all the time. Our attention flits from one thing to the next instantaneously, seemingly without any control. When this becomes somewhat extreme, so that the individual can barely function in the world, Western psychologists term it ‘ADHD”, or in the general language “attention deficit disorder”. Our modern lifestyle and the technology we utilize tends to accentuate this sense of distractedness and eventually we train our being to crave the sensations or experience what we term as “boredom”. The urban life is filled with flashing lights, sounds, smells, and it tries to entice us to follow after any of the attractions put before us. We crave this entertainment and as a result, our attention span, even when it is not at the level to be diagnosed as ADHD, is very low. We thus fritter away time and focus in our lives in miniature parcels of time jumping from one thing to another.

If we look at the life of past generations, prior to the digital age, or if we look to the parts of the world that remain primarily rural and village-based, we see a wholly different energetic relationship of the people to their environment. The digital distraction is not there, and people can relax and spend time in a low-input setting without becoming nervous or distracted. Yet even in this environment, it is easy to become distracted and the relatively simple nature of the tasks they undertake makes it possible to accomplish them without serious attention in many cases.

We can observe however instances in which an individual immerses himself into a task so completely that he loses the sense of time, disregards impulses of hunger, thirst, or other ‘distractions’ and focuses solely on the task at hand. In sports, such a state, albeit short-lived, is called being “in the zone”. We learn of scientists who are deeply focused on abstract concepts or applications of those concepts to practical affairs, and who are able to concentrate. In spiritual endeavours also, we see that individuals learn how to practice ‘mindfulness’ or who can visualize in intricate detail various forms, deities or yantras, or who can follow a line of thought with a very focused attention. Thus, we can begin to appreciate the difference between the normal state of distracted focus, and the state of concentrated awareness that can result as an individual learns how to harness the attention and fix it on a single point of reference. We see that it is such states of concentration that lead to progress both for the individual and for humanity, and we can thus appreciate that this is an evolved status that represents capacities available to humanity and slowly developing through various approaches, whether science, spirituality or some other modus.

Dr. Dalal writes: “(b) One of the chief characteristics of the normal state of consciousness is distractibility. The changing impressions and sensations from the outside and the flux of thoughts and feelings from within produce a state of constant distraction. On the other hand, the inner consciousness is centred or concentrated. As the consciousness grows, and one learns to live more and more in the deeper consciousness, one experiences a state of centredness or concentration.”

Sri Aurobindo continues: “The higher consciousness is a concentrated consciousness… not dispersed and rushing about after this or that mental idea or vital desire or physical need as is the ordinary human consciousness — also not invaded by a hundred haphazard thoughts, feelings and impulses, but master of itself, centred and harmonious.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. vi

Comparing Current General State of Human Consciousness With More Evolved States, Part 1 Unconsciousness Versus Increasing Consciousness

What does the evolution of a new power of consciousness imply? When we observe the impact that the Life-Force has had on Matter, we can see that it brings in a radical transformation of Matter itself to allow the Life-Force to act. Matter has to become more responsive, more flexible, less dense, in order to carry out the demands of the Life-Energy. Similarly, when we observe the advent of Mind into Life and Matter, we see further radical transformations taking place to the point that Mind is now exploring sub-atomic realms, conducting genetic engineering and rearranging the action of the Life-Force as well as the basic substances of Matter.

We may then wonder about the next phase of the evolutionary progression, beyond the Mind, and what characteristics it will have and how it will differ from the current status of the Mind, Life and Matter and their relation to one another. Dr. Dalal details a number of such comparative factors, which will be taken up sequentially in separate parts.

The first major difference is in the level of awareness that begins to make aspects of our being and existence of which we remain mostly ignorant at present susceptible to our awareness. In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo details what he terms to be the sevenfold Ignorance and subsequently, the progression towards the sevenfold knowledge. There is an ignorance of what remains not only unconscious or subconscious to us, but also of those realms and aspects which are superconscious, above our current level of awareness and thus not able to be perceived or understood by us.

Any development of a new power or level of consciousness will therefore have to bring with it new levels of awareness and knowledge of ourselves and our environment and our relationship to the universal manifestation. We can expect thereby that the inconsistencies and disharmony brought about through our incomplete knowledge at the mental and vital levels will find potential solutions as a new, more comprehensive power of consciousness begins to manifest.

Dr. Dalal notes: “The difference between the presently normal state of consciousness and the more evolved state of consciousness at which inner growth aims is reflected in their contrasting characteristics, some of which are indicated below.

“(a) The normal state of consciousness is more or less submerged in unconsciousness: in the normal state, a person is totally unconscious of the deeper and higher levels of the being, and largely unconscious of even the superficial being made up of the body-consciousness, thoughts and feelings. With the inner growth of one’s being, there comes an increasing consciousness, for consciousness is the very nature and essence of being.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. v-vi

Distinguishing Between Personal Growth and Inner Growth

While humanity embodies the development of the mental consciousness, in principle, it must be noted that this generalisation does not apply specifically to each and every human individual. Just as the field of statistics does not predict any single event, and the observational experiments of quantum mechanics do not predict the movement of a specific photon through an aperture, yet in both cases, statistical or ‘real world’ distributions are able to be predicted, so also the mental development does not imply that every person is in the same place in evolutionary terms, while we can conclude that the evolution of Mind occurs in human beings.

This leads to some amount of confusion in terms of individual growth and development. Due to the wide range of human development, there are programs and practices that are supportive of the development of the core competencies of Mind, Life and Body and the development and strengthening of the ego-personality; as well as programs and practices focused on the transcendence of the ego and the development of the spiritual consciousness, with a variety of focus areas determined by individual development, personality and aspirations. The first group is identified by Dr. Dalal as focused on personal growth. The second on inner growth.

In today’s society, these two directions are often lumped together under some kind of personal growth rubric. It is thus easy to become disoriented when trying to figure out how to move forward in one’s own life. “One size fits all” definitely does not work, so each individual needs to understand the source and direction of his own aspiration and the initial starting point from which the growth needs to occur. Those who need to develop the basic skills of body, life and mind and the interaction with society will likely find it best to focus on the personal growth side of things. Those who have already developed a strong personality and who feel that the fulfillment offered by the world is simply not enough to satisfy their deeper seeking, will likely turn to inner growth practices.

Dr. Dalal observes: “Most of what is today called ‘personal growth’, aimed at by various psychotherapeutic approaches (such as Transactional Analysis, Gestalt Therapy, Rational-Emotive Therapy, etc.) and by the various techniques associated with the Human-Potential Movement (such as Encounter Group, Sensitivity Training, Assertiveness Training, etc.) pertains to what has just been described above as the development of the ego and individuality. On the other hand, inner growth, aimed at by Eastern and Western spiritual approaches (such as Yoga, Zen, Sufism, Christian Mysticism, etc.), consists of ‘transpersonal’ development beyond the ego-state, and represents a total reversal of the normal, ego-bound state of consciousness. It is therefore imperative to distinguish between personal growth and inner growth.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pg. v

The Role of the Ego in the Evolution of Consciousness

In one of his aphorisms, Sri Aurobindo observes: “…the ego was the helper, the ego is the bar.” For most spiritual seekers, the attachment to the ego-personality is the great hindrance which they must find a way to overcome. Some try extreme methods to minimize the role and power of the ego. But we must ask the question: Why does the ego exist in the first place in the Divine creation, if it has no purpose and must be done away with?

A close examination of plant life and that of many of the less complex animals shows that they seem to live a life without individual reflection or ego-awareness. In many cases there is a “hive” or congregation of some sort of which each member is a part and to which each member relates its entire awareness. Ants and bees, for instance, seem to have a ‘group’ existence rather than an individual life. As animal life developed greater mental power, we begin to see a growing awareness of the individual as a somewhat separate entity, and we thus see, not only the ‘pack’ or the ‘hive’ awareness, but something of an individual consciousness which we may term a rudimentary form of ego.

With the development of the higher primates and eventually the human species, we see the development of a clear and distinct ego-consciousness. The ego-consciousness is not, however, an unmixed blessing. It has its drawbacks and this leads to results like selfishness, greed, self-aggrandisement, and other forms of ego-centeredness and attachment. Along with the ego-consciousness comes, at a certain point in development the capacity for self-reflection, for a quest for meaning and significance and eventually, the aspiration for progress in various fields, including the development of the spiritual aspiration. At this point, the ego has reached its peak of development and significance and it is then time for a new phase that transcends and supersedes the ego-awareness. This does not imply a return to the “hive” but a new formation that can recognise both the value of the individual and the integration of the individual into the collective entirety of the universal manifestation.

Dr. Dalal notes: “Even after the emergence of Mind, the growth of consciousness in the human being continues to be a more or less unconscious process, because the roots of Matter, Life and Mind lie in the Inconscient out of which they have evolved. The first step for emerging out of the primeval unconsciousness is to develop a conscious ego — a separate and independent individuality. So long as an individuality has not been formed, the human being remains an amorphous entity, more or less fused with the unconscious totality of existence. It is by the development of a conscious ego — ‘… individualisation of being in becoming’ — that a person becomes an individual. Ego is the identification of our being with the superficial, outer self made up of the body, the vital nature and the mind. Due to the ego, a certain formation of physical, vital and mental experience is distinguished from the rest of the being and is regarded as the “self”. Thus the ego serves to bring about the emergence from unconsciousness through a progressive consciousness (awareness) of the physical, vital and mental aspects of the being.”

“Once the separative ego has been adequately developed, evolution of consciousness can be accelerated through growth in a different dimension — that which lies in the transcendence of the ego, liberation from the ignorant identification with one’s superficial nature, and the discovery of the true Self. Inner growth, thus, represents a new dimension of evolution.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. iv-v

Evolution of Consciousness

Nature takes a long time to effectuate substantive evolutionary progress in manifesting higher, more complex and more powerful forms of consciousness. The shift from the realm of Matter took countless millennia. The first appearance of Life was simple and, again, the time required was far beyond what any human individual can possibly conceive in any realistic manner. Along the way, there were countless forms that developed embodying various powers of the life energy, just as before that, various forms of Matter evolved to include metals and crystals that have a higher responsiveness than the initial forms of rock that were expressed. With the advent of Mind, a new form of evolutionary development manifested, and, again, there were different forms that evolved to embody varying powers of Mind. Again, countless millennia were required to bring us to the current status of the manifestation of Mind in the world, as seen in our human existence.

In each case, the new expression of consciousness built up and was based in the existence of the prior expressions in our world. Thus, Life evolved in and through Matter and Mind evolved in and through Life in a material body. While this progression may not hold true in all possible worlds or universes, this is the evident progression in our world.

As the next level of consciousness begins to emerge, we may extrapolate from the manner in which the prior levels have manifested, The new consciousness would then be expressed through Mind, and based in Life and Matter. Given the imbalances caused by the advent of Life and Mind into the world of Matter (pollution, climate change, world wars, nuclear and biological weapons, waste and mis-management of limited resources, etc. etc. etc.), with no solutions in sight from even our highest mental capacities, we certainly cannot wait for ‘countless millennia’ for the next phase to develop and provide new powers of consciousness to rectify these imbalances and provide a harmonious development platform. Thus, the issue arises as to whether anything has changed to provide us the hope, or the certainty, of a faster and more leveraged process. Sri Aurobindo has identified the ability of the human being to participate consciously in the evolution as a lever to speed up this emergence.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “it is fundamentally an evolution of consciousness that has been taking place in Nature”.

Dr. Dalal expounds further: “The inner growth of the human being is simply a continuation of the evolution of consciousness which has hitherto resulted successively in the emergence of Life out of Matter and of Mind out of Life. In other words, consciousness has developed ever higher forms of its manifestation on earth — from the mineral to the plant, to the animal, to man, the mental being. What is called inner growth in this book refers to the evolution of consciousness beyond Mind.”

“Prior to the appearance of the human or mental being, evolution has been a slow, subconscious process. The emergence of Mind marks the beginning of a new process of evolution by which the human being, through a conscious will and aspiration for inner growth, becomes a conscious participant and collaborator in the evolution of consciousness. Thus inner growth is a process of conscious evolution. Any system of proven methods for achieving inner growth is yoga; for yoga is, as noted by Sri Aurobindo, ‘a methodised effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the potentialities latent in the being….’ Regarding the two modes of evolution — subconscious evolution through the processes of Nature and conscious evolution through Yoga — Sri Aurobindo writes: “All Nature is an attempt at a progressive revelation of the concealed Truth…. But what Nature aims at for the mass in a slow evolution, Yoga effects for the individual by a rapid revolution. … their aim is one in the end. The generalisation of Yoga in humanity must be the last victory of Nature over her own delays and concealments. Even as now by the progressive mind of Science she seeks to make all mankind fit for the full development of the mental life, so by Yoga must she inevitably seek to make all mankind fit for the higher evolution, the second birth, the spiritual existence.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. iii-iv

The Conceptual Framework for the Book Growing Within: the Psychology of Inner Development

In the present volume, Dr. A.S. Dalal bridges the gap between Western psychology and Eastern spirituality as he explores the detailed inner workings of human life and provides at the same time a way of understanding, based on the ground-breaking work of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, which puts the human potential for self-exceeding front and center.

Dr. Dalal has compiled this book from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother after first providing a detailed introduction and outline of their approach to the awakening and the growth of consciousness. He calls upon the principles of yogic psychology to show us the way to move from our current state of human awareness to a new psychological status and a reversal of consciousness which brings about a sense of joy, fulfillment and purpose in life.

Dr. Dalal writes: “This book aims at shedding some light on the meaning, nature and processes of inner development. Its purpose is to help seekers in understanding and recognising the processes and experiences of inner growth, so as to serve, in some measure, as a guide to those who may not have yet found a personal teacher and mentor.”

“In order to make the book meaningful to all seekers of growth irrespective of their personal belief systems, the passages included in the compilation have been selected from the viewpoint of the psychological nature of their content, dealing with inner growth as an experiential process. Though based on Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, the focus is on the universal psychological elements and principles of inner growth, the understanding and validation of which rests on personal experience, introspection and intuition rather than on mental beliefs, although, beliefs can help or hinder the understanding. For this reason, features of the growth process peculiar to Sri Aurobindo’s yoga have not been treated in the book, though allusions to such unique features will be found in some of the passages included in the compilation.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Preface, pp. i-ii

Introduction to Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development


Charles Darwin, in his book The Origin of Species, summarizes his observations about the evolution of forms and how this evolution came about. He explains that there is a pressure in Nature which eventually leads to the “survival of the fittest”, who then go on to reproduce and thereby pass on whatever qualities helped them survive the challenges of life. While there is much to applaud in this book, it is not without its detractors and its obvious internal weaknesses. One glaring weakness is the lack of what are seen as transitional links in the fossil record that show the steps of this evolution of forms. Another weakness is the inability to address any purpose or significance to this vast machinery of Nature.

Sri Aurobindo addresses both of these apparent issues. First, he describes, not a smooth and slow evolution of forms, but what he calls an “evolutionary saltus” at a certain stage when the underlying causative factors are prepared. Second, he identifies the causative factors as consciousness, and the evolution of consciousness in ever more powerful and complex formations. It is this evolution of consciousness which creates the needed development of forms to embody that consciousness.

By reframing the question of evolution away from a purely mechanical activity of physical nature to one of the development of consciousness, he also puts before us the proposition that man is not the final stage of evolution, but in fact is a transitional being. Further evolutionary developments are anticipated, and in fact, signs can be seen, in the human aspiration, that such developments are in fact taking place within the scope of human existence.

This provides a purpose and a focus for each individual beyond the mere acts required for existence and survival, and of more significance than simple enjoyment or entertainment. Those who are awake to a deeper aspect of life are called therefore to what Sri Aurobindo terms an ‘adventure of consciousness’.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine: “To become ourselves is the one thing to be done; but the true ourselves is that which is within us, and to exceed our outer self of body, life and mind is the condition for this highest being, which is our true and divine being, to become self-revealed and active. It is only by growing within and living within that we can find it….”

The Mother observes: “everything turns around the consciousness, the fact of being or not being conscious. And it is only in the supreme Consciousness that you can attain the perfect expression of yourself. … For the true consciousness is the divine Consciousness. If you cut yourself off from the divine Consciousness, you become absolutely unconscious; that is exactly what has happened. And so, everything there is, the world as it is, your consciousness as it is, things in the state they are in, are the result of this separation of the consciousness and its immediate obscuration. … The minute the individual consciousness is separated from the divine Consciousness, it enters what we call the inconscience, and it is this inconscience that is the cause of all miseries. … And the conclusion is this, that the true transformation is the transformation of consciousness — all the rest will follow automatically.”

Sri Aurobindo notes further: “It is by a constant inner growth that one can find a constant newness and unfailing interest in life. There is no other satisfying way.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development

Living Within: Summary and Conclusions

Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, compliled by Dr. A.S. Dalal, is an eminently practical handbook for understanding and addressing the complexity of our psychological makeup. Modern-day civilisation creates enormous pressures for individuals, while at the same time immersing everyone in a vast array of information, misinformation, and divergent opinions which tend to confuse rather than clarify our status. It is no wonder that we see an enormous increase in psychological suffering, a lack of peace in the being, and numerous manifestations of disruptions in our minds, in our vital life energy and in our bodies which wreak havoc on our ability to function and carry out our individual destiny. We continually seek for answers and a solution to these seemingly insoluble problems. Endless therapy sessions do not seem to resolve them. The spiritual paths of the East have the ability to provide new insight and clarity to the issues that we face, and thus, we have seen an enormous upsurge in interest in these disciplines. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, with their grounding in both the developments of the West and the directions of the East, have created a synthesis that provides a flexible, responsive and intuitive response to the challenges of our time.

Arden Mahlberg, from the Midwestern Psychological Services, Madison, Wisconsin notes the following: “Western psychotherapy and personal growth process has gained considerably from the experience acquired within Eastern traditions. Living Within makes it apparent that there is a great deal more to learn that is of both practical and theoretical value. Dr. A.S. Dalal has lived and worked in both the world of Western mental health and the world of Eastern spiritual discipline. He draws on the deep insights of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to locate the origins and solutions to ordinary problems in living as well as in psychopathology. The key lies in understanding that the levels of consciousness in which we ordinarily live are fraught with psychological disturbances. As a result, we experience recurrent conflict, anxiety, anger, fear and depression. Living Within not only shows the way for overcoming such disturbances radically, but also provides practical guidance and exercises for achieving positive mental health and psychological growth.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth

Attaining Peace in the Being

A central key to attaining peace lies in achieving the poise of non-attachment. Non-attachment is sometimes confused with avoidance of action, or some kind of renunciation. But non-attachment can develop even among those who are active in the world. King Janaka was known as being non-attached while still ruling a kingdom and living amidst the luxuries that were part of his position. Buddha achieved non-attachment through overcoming the force of desire. Non-attachment is an underlying basis for refocusing the concentration of the being on the Eternal. Energy flows where it is directed. If we are attached to the life in the world, then our entire focus goes towards achieving what is considered to be success in the world, whether through development of family, wealth, fame, or other emoluments. When we determine to refocus the energy towards the Divine, or towards the principle of peace, then we set up an energetic relationship with those objects and thus can achieve the result of that concentration. That is once again the principle of samyama in action.

The question was posed: “How can we establish a settled peace and silence in the mind?”

The Mother responds: “First of all, you must want it. … And then you must try and must persevere, continue trying. What I have just told you is a very good means. Yet there are others also. You sit quietly, to begin with; and then, instead of thinking of fifty things, you begin saying to yourself, ‘Peace, peace, peace, peace, peace, calm, peace!’ You imagine peace and calm. You aspire, ask that it may come: ‘Peace, peace, calm.’ And then, when something comes and touches you and acts, say quietly, like this, ‘Peace, peace, peace.’ Do not look at the thoughts, do not listen to the thoughts, you understand. You must not pay attention to everything that comes. You know, when someone bothers you a great deal and you want to get rid of him, you don’t listen to him, do you? Good! You turn your head away (gesture) and think of something else. Well, you must do that: when thoughts come, you must not look at them, must not listen to them, must not pay any attention at all, you must behave as though they did not exist, you see! And then, repeat all the time like a kind of — how shall I put it? — as an idiot does, who repeats the same thing always. Well, you must do the same thing; you must repeat, ‘Peace, peace, peace.’ So you try this for a few minutes and then do what you have to do; and then, another time, you begin again; sit down again and then try. Do this on getting up in the morning, do this in the evening when going to bed. You can do this… look, if you want to digest your food properly, you can do this for a few minutes before eating. You can’t imagine how much this helps your digestion! Before beginning to eat you sit quietly for a while and say, ‘Peace, peace, peace!’ and everything becomes calm. It seems as though all the noises were going far, far, far away (Mother stretches out her arms on both sides) and then you must continue; and there comes a time when you no longer need to sit down, and no matter what you are doing, no matter what you are saying, it is always ‘Peace, peace, peace.’ Everything remains here, like this, it does not enter (gesture in front of the forehead), it remains like this. And then one is always in a perfect peace… after some years.”

“But at the beginning, a very small beginning, two or three minutes, it is very simple. For something complicated you must make an effort, and when one makes an effort, one is not quiet. It is difficult to make an effort while remaining quiet. Very simple, very simple, you must be very simple in these things. It is as though you were learning how to call a friend: by dint of being called he comes. Well, make peace and calm your friends and call them: ‘Come, peace, peace, peace, peace, come!’ “

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Establishing Peace in the Mind, pp. 161-162