The Call to the Spiritual Path

If we look at the individual life as separate from the rest of the creation, and claim that it starts at birth and ends at death, there seems to be no rationale or meaning for that life, nor can we explain the evolutionary progression of awareness, understanding, growth, and development that we see before us. We see a baby come into the world with very little outward capabilities, without a developed language, and over time we see the child grow and go through phases or stages of development such that the physical body, the nervous envelope, the emotional being and the mind systematically develop. As this occurs, the child changes its focus and attention from its childish pursuits and moves into activities more suited to its current stage of development. When the child reaches the onset of puberty, sexual energies become active which were latent previously. Then the individual turns in a majority of cases to the development of family and career. At a certain stage, many people find that the interest in outer activities begins to wane. The Indian tradition of the four stages of life developed from this type of observation. When the interest in the outer life recedes, the individual was encouraged to take up the life of a renunciate and turn toward spiritual seeking.

The stages or cycles at work here, however, begin in past lifetimes and develop over many lifetimes. Some individuals are born into their current life with highly developed capabilities and spiritual development already evident. The reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and the ability of the chosen monks to seek out and find the right incarnation through unmistakable signs of recognition of items used in the prior lifetime, is one such illustration. This process explains why some people move through the stages of development of consciousness faster or slower in a particular lifetime.

We also see the process of preparation in the way births take place. A chicken will sit on an egg to keep it warm for a period of time until the chick inside is ready to break out and manifest itself in the world. Similarly, mammals, including human beings, nurture the fetus in the womb until it is ready to be born. At the right time, the birth process begins.

The manifestation of the spiritual aspiration and the turning of the attention to spiritual things is similar in many ways to these cycles. It occurs when there is a readiness in the being, and then there is sometimes a specific factor that breaks open the concealment and allows the soul to come forward. Thus, there is a combination of the readiness of the soul and the pressure from the outside that create the conditions for the spiritual aspiration to take hold in the individual. For some this is simply a natural growth process; for others it may need a force applied, such as some great sorrow or disillusionment in the accomplishments possible in the world.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The greater and greater awakening of consciousness and its climb to a higher and higher level and a wider extent of its vision and action is the condition of our progress towards that supreme and total perfection which is the aim of our existence.”

“All Yoga is in its nature a new birth; it is a birth out of the ordinary, the mentalised material life of man into a higher spiritual consciousness and a greater and diviner being. No Yoga can be successfully undertaken and followed unless there is a strong awakening to the necessity of that larger spiritual existence. The soul that is called to this deep and vast change, may arrive in different ways to the initial departure. It may come to it by its own natural development which has been leading it unconsciously towards the awakening; it may reach it through the influence of a religion or the attraction of a philosophy; it may approach it by a slow illumination or leap to it by a sudden touch or shock; it may be pushed or led to it by the pressure of outward circumstances or by an inward necessity, by a single word that breaks the seals of the mind or by long reflection, by the distant example of one who has trod the path or by contact and daily influence. According to the nature and the circumstances the call will come.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter II Awakening of Consciousness, pp. 16-17


Spirituality: What It Is Not, and What It is

We frequently hear people speaking about spirituality. They indicate ‘I consider myself to be spiritual, not religious.’ Beyond that distinction, however, when one asks what they mean by ‘spirituality’ there is a wide range of responses that make it clear that spirituality is mostly something vague and somewhat amorphous. Sri Aurobindo provides a very clear, brief overview of what spirituality is (and what it is not).

Sri Aurobindo writes: “…spirituality is not a high intellectuality, not idealism, not an ethical turn of mind or moral purity and austerity, not religiousity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervour, not even a compound of all these excellent things; a mental belief, creed or faith, an emotional aspiration, a regulation of conduct according to a religious or ethical formula are not spiritual achievement and experience. These things are of considerable value to mind and life; they are of value to the spiritual evolution itself as preparatory movements disciplining, purifying or giving a suitable form to the nature; but they still belong to the mental evolution, — the beginning of a spiritual realisation, experience, change is not yet there. Spirituality is in its essence an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than our mind, life and body, an inner aspiration to know, to feel, to be that, to enter into contact with the greater Reality beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being, to be in communion with It and union with It, and a turning, a conversion, a transformation of our whole being as a result of the aspiration, the contact, the union, a growth or waking into a new becoming or new being, a new self, a new nature.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter II Awakening of Consciousness, pg. 16

The Individual and the Collectivity

Many studies have been done, and real-life examples have shown the power of a body of people focused on a particular feeling, thought or action. Mob psychology shows that individuals who otherwise might be seen as quiet and peaceful can be riled up into paroxysms of anger when part of an angry crowd. It is this type of psychology that turns ordinary people into savage beasts when they are demagogued and harangued to stoke the force of anger.

There are also instances of religious bigotry or racism being played out using a similar tactic of mobilizing the force of the crowd to overturn the individual’s own balance and normal ways of seeing things. In his book 1984, George Orwell illustrated this with what he called the “2 minute hate” where everyone’s emotions were whipped up to an extreme degree to hate a particular object to which the State was directing the attention of the citizens.

We see similar things in some of the political rallies that take place in the world today, when a particular individual or group is demonized and the mob made to believe that only violent resistance or action is possible to solve the situation. The mob can then be directed toward the object of the hatred so raised and chaos will then ensue.

There are of course also positive aspects of a collective emotion, such as when devotees join together in devotion and create a positive atmosphere. The issue is not that crowds always are destructive; rather, that if a participant is not sufficiently conscious and self-developed, he can more easily be brought under control of whatever force is working through the throng.

We have seen the evolution from a tribal society which is necessarily a collective endeavour, to a more individualistic development as seen in the modern civilisation. This transition was necessary so that each individual can reach an optimum development; it was, however, not intended to destroy the sense of community, but uplift it to a new level where conscious individuals can join voluntarily together in a collective effort without thereby needing to erase their unique individuality and abilities. The collectivity is naturally conservative and relies on the traditions, mores, and habits of the collective group. The individual can provide the impetus and capacity to bring new forces, energies and movements of consciousness into being, and thereby uplift the collectivity to a new level. The two forces need to find their harmony, balance and appropriate relation to one another such that progress can be made without the destruction of the collectivity. The centrifugal and centripetal forces must find their balance.

The Mother notes: “To be individualised in a collectivity, one must be absolutely conscious of oneself… the Self which is above all intermixture… the Truth of your being. And as long as you are not conscious of the Truth of your being, you are moved by all kinds of things, without taking any note of it at all. Collective thought, collective suggestions are a formidable influence which act constantly on individual thought…. To escape this there is but one means: to become conscious of oneself, more and more conscious….”

Sri Aurobindo continues: “In the crowd the individual loses his inner direction and becomes a cell of the mass-body moved by the collective will or idea or the mass-impulse. He has to stand apart, affirm his separate reality in the whole, his own mind emerging from the common mentality, his own life distinguishing itself in the common life-uniformity, even as his body has developed something unique and recognisable in the common physicality…. Nature invented the ego that the individual might disengage himself from the inconscience or subconscience of the mass and become an independent living mind, life-power, soul, spirit, coordinating himself with the world around him but not drowned in it…. For the individual is indeed part of the cosmic being, but he is also something more, he is a soul that has descended from the Transcendence. This he cannot manifest at once, because he is too near to the cosmic Inconscience, not near enough to the original Superconscience; he has to find himself as the mental and vital ego before he can find himself as the soul or spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pg. 14

The First Necessary Step in Preparation for the Practice of the Integral Yoga

One can clearly appreciate the unique nature of the integral yoga when one reflects on the preparation needed for the practice when compared to the preparations required for numerous other paths of yoga. The 8 steps set forth in Patanjali’s yoga sutras include two preparatory stages, called yamas and niyamas. These set forth purifications of the physical, vital and mental being so that the further practices can bear fruit and not wind up harming the practitioner. Similar requirements are set forth for many paths of spiritual discipline, one way or the other, to ensure the individual can focus, not become distracted and hold the energy without spilling it or breaking down the body-life-mind complex. Some individuals, like Milarepa, require extensive preparation through hard physical labor. Others are asked to practice silence, or devotional prayers, to quiet the mind and open the heart. Some require extensive preparation of the physical body so as to have it acquire a perfect ‘seat’ (asana) that is steady, firm and which can be maintained for long periods of time as meditation develops. Every yogic path, every spiritual discipline, asks the practitioner to first undertake exercises of this sort so as to ready the being for the arduous efforts and tests that arise along the way.

For the integral yoga, all of these preparations are subsumed under a more general prescription of becoming conscious. The process and the result of becoming conscious inevitably lead to the type of purifications asked for in the numerous other paths of spirituality.

The other day, a seeker asked what role Hatha Yoga or Raja Yoga plays for a practitioner of the Integral Yoga. Neither of these are necessarily required for the integral yoga, but may become part of the process, at some stage or another, as the conscious seeker addresses issues that arise in the course of the sadhana. Every science, every branch of human knowledge, human activity and human energy may be called to play a role at a certain stage. The conscious individual learns to wield these tools to address difficulties or to support progress in the mind, life-energy or the body, to the extent that he finds they will aid the process, and without being attached to them as permanent stages. For instance, the disciplines of Hatha Yoga may help to train the body, aid in the increasing awareness and consciousness of the body, and make it strong, flexible and resilient. The disciplines of Raja Yoga may do something similar for the nervous envelope and the mind. Yet, in the end, once the need has been dealt with, the practitioner can, and should, put aside the tools in order to continue to progress into the next phase or stage of yogic development. It must be remembered that the goal of integral yoga is not to become a perfect Hathayogin or Rajayogin, but to open the consciousness to oneness with the divine force and to support that force as it carries out the evolutionary transformations that take place in the world.

A disciple asks: “What is one to do to prepare oneself for the Yoga?”

The Mother observes: “To be conscious, first of all. We are conscious of only an insignificant portion of our being; for the most part we are unconscious. It is this unconsciousness that keeps us down to our unregenerate nature and prevents change and transformation in it. It is through unconsciousness that the undivine forces enter into us and make us their slaves. You are to be conscious of yourself, you must awake to your nature and movements, you must know why and how you do things or feel or think them; you must understand your motives and impulses, the forces, hidden and apparent, that move you; in fact, you must, as it were, take to pieces the entire machinery of your being. Once you are conscious, it means that you can distinguish and sift things, you can see which are the forces that pull you down and which help you on.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pg. 13

Obtaining a Clear Perception and Understanding of Life Purpose and Significance

If we examine closely our mental state when we undertake activities with which we are familiar, experienced and educated, we see that our minds are sharp, our perceptions are detailed and our understanding is precise. We find it easiest to achieve this status with external things, although some with a developed intellect can apply this to abstract matters such as mathematical formulae or complex games such as chess.

Contrast this with the way we generally experience our sense of our mission in life, our past development and the trend of that development into the future. For most of us, we get vague intimations. Some, who practice past life regression or various forms of hypnosis in an attempt to unlock the hidden areas of our subconscious being, accept that they are getting clear insights into their past lives. In some cases, of course, there is a very clear perception, but in others, we find again some vague intimations and possibly the working of unconscious suggestion or desire to create these past lives in the image of what we want them to be. What is missing is the kind of sharp, clear, distinct perception that we obtain when we look at specific fields of endeavour in our surface lives. How then can we actually understand the significance and purpose of our lives, if all we generally obtain are these amorphous feelings or intimations.

It is possible to enter into a status of consciousness where one actually sees clearly why one has been born into this life and into these circumstances, and one understands what one has to do. This comes about when the soul, the psychic being, comes forward and takes over active guidance of the life from in front, not just as intimations from behind. Sometimes an event occurs which dramatically provides an opening to the deeper being. Dannion Brinkley reported that he was struck by lightning, was ‘clinically dead’ for 28 minutes and when he returned to life, he was aware of the purpose of his life and his mission, which he described in his autobiographical work Saved by the Light. Near death experiences seem to frequently bring an opening for people to understand their lives in a deeper and more precise manner, and in some cases, they reorient the entire direction that the life had taken heretofore. Intense spiritual experiences may have a similar result. The transformative impact of such an experience is illustrated in the story in the Bible about Saul on the road to Damascus and his subsequent conversion to become Paul the Apostle of Jesus. He recognised his ‘mission’ in life through that experience. Such events underlie many of the stories of awakening to the deeper sense of life that permeate human experience through the ages.

The Mother writes: “There is such a great difference between feeling vaguely, having a hesitant impression of something, of a force, a movement, an impulse, an attraction, of something which drives you in life — it it is still so vague, so uncertain, it is hazy — there is such a difference between this and having a clear vision, an exact perception, a total understanding of the meaning of one’s life. And only then does one begin to see things as they are, not before. Only then can one follow the thread of one’s destiny and clearly see the goal and the way to reach it. But that happens only through successive inner awakenings, like doors opening suddenly on new horizons — truly, a new birth into a truer, deeper, more lasting consciousness.”

“Until then you live in a cloud, gropingly, under the weight of a destiny which at times crushes you, gives you the feeling of having been made in a certain way and being unable to do anything about it. You are under the burden of an existence which weighs you down, makes you crawl on the ground instead of rising above and seeing all the threads, the guiding threads, the threads which bind different things into a single movement of progression towards a realisation that grows clear.”

“One must spring up out of this half-consciousness which is usually considered quite natural — this is your ‘normal’ way of being and you do not even draw back from it sufficiently to be able to see and wonder at this incertitude, this lack of precision; while, on the contrary, to know that one is seeking and to seek consciously, deliberately, steadfastly and methodically, this indeed is the exceptional, almost ‘abnormal’ condition. And yet only in this way does one begin to truly live.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pp. 12-13

The Psychic Entity Knows the Purpose and Significance of Our Existence

When we live primarily, or entirely, focused on our external life via the instruments of the body, life-force and mind, we cannot determine nor recognise the purpose and significance of our existence. We may speculate. We may hold opinions. We may adhere to some doctrine, such as a religious doctrine, particularly if we are members of a particular faith and have been trained in that faith. None of these things, however, provide us any certainty as to this question. The mind, the life and the body are not instruments of knowledge, and thus, they are tied to confusion, error and misapplication of perceived facts. However adamantly we hold our views, we do not have the certainty of ‘knowing’.

Knowledge is based in experience. When the soul, the psychic being, comes forward, it provides certainty as it is a direct ‘knower of truth’. It moves the outer instrumentation to discover the truth and act upon it. It uses the suffering of the outer life as leverage to make the being ready for and receptive to the truth of its existence and the deeper meaning of one’s life.

The Mother notes: “And it is only when one has found, you see, found what he says, found that one has a divine Self and that consequently one must seek to know this divine Self…. This comes much later, and yet, in spite of everything, from the very moment of birth in a physical body, there is in the being, in its depths, this psychic presence which pushes the whole being towards this fulfilment. But who knows it and recognises it, this psychic being? That too comes only in special circumstances, and unfortunately, most of the time these have to be painful circumstances, otherwise one goes on living unthinkingly. And in the depths of one’s being is this psychic being which seeks, seeks, seeks to awaken the consciousness and re-establish the union. One knows nothing about it….”

“Essentially, it is only when one has become aware of one’s soul, has been identified with one’s psychic being that one can see in a single flash the picture of one’s individual development through the ages. Then indeed one begins to know…but not before. Then, indeed, I assure you it becomes very interesting. It changes one’s position in life.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pp. 11-12


If we reflect on our own lives, and consider the people we meet in our daily lives, including our family, friends, acquaintances, work associates, and chance those we meet ‘along the way’ we likely will find that very little time, thought or consideration, if any, is given to the pursuit of the answer to the question “why?”. We think about all the little details of our lives, the food we eat, the enjoyment we have, the next activity we are to undertake, our education, our participation in sports or other hobbies, our desires, our need to work and acquire money, buy things, develop a family and explore relationships, not to speak of the time we spend in dissipation or pure amusement. Few people we meet at any time who seriously consider why they are alive, and what they are supposed to do with the life they lead. There are many who will respond with a purely mechanical, process-oriented answer that they were born out of their parents’ act of procreation, and they don’t really have any purpose. They will live their lives as best they can, and when they die, it is over. There are others who accept the teachings of one religion or another, without deeper reflection, that they are here for some kind of test or trial, and if they pass they will proceed to heaven when they die, and if not, then they must ‘burn in hell’. Some believe that the world is a big game of “might makes right” and they try to control, bully, cheat, do anything at all to ‘succeed’ in the game they have accepted as their purpose. Still others have the belief that the entire life is some kind of unreality and must simply be abandoned as quickly as possible. But after all of this, very little real examination or reflection actually takes place to see if there is some deeper sense or purpose to one’s life and existence, and if there is some meaning to it all.

There are of course individuals who, one way or another, experience another reality, who understand through that experience that life has a purpose and that the individual life is meant to express that purpose in an ever greater and more perfect manner. Some experience this through what is known as a ‘near death experience’. When they return they are somehow changed, they see things from a different perspective, they return with a new insight to their lives. Others have a glimpse through a peak experience, sometimes an out of body experience, sometimes what is known as a spiritual experience. However it comes about, these individuals undertake acts such as a vision quest, a pilgrimage, a deep inner reflection and examination, or wind up seeking out and finding a teacher who has had a similar experience and who can help guide them to a new level of understanding. These few individuals actually ask the question ‘why?” and dedicate their efforts to finding an answer.

The Mother observes: “Well, to find out what one truly is, to find out why one is on earth, what is the purpose of physical existence, of this presence on earth, of this formation, this existence… the vast majority of people live without asking themselves this even once! Only a small elite ask themselves this question with interest, and fewer still start working to get the answer. For, unless one is fortunate enough to come across someone who knows it, it is not such an easy thing to find. Suppose, for instance, that there had never come to your hands a book of Sri Aurobindo’s or of any of the writers or philosophers or sages who have dedicated their lives to this quest; if you were in the ordinary world, as millions of people are in the ordinary world, who have never heard of anything, except at times — and not always nowadays, even quite rarely — of some gods and a certain form of religion which is more a habit than a faith and, which, besides, rarely tells you why you are on earth…. Then, one doesn’t even think of thinking about it. One lives from day to day the events of each day. When one is very young, one thinks of playing, eating, and a little later of learning, and after that one thinks of all the circumstances of life. But to put this problem to oneself, to confront this problem and ask oneself: ‘But after all, why am I here?’ How many do that? There are people to whom this idea comes only when they are facing a catastrophe. When they see someone whom they love die or when they find themselves in particularly painful and difficult circumstances, they turn back upon themselves, if they are sufficiently intelligent, and ask themselves: ‘But really, what is this tragedy we are living, and what’s the use of it and what is its purpose?’ And only at that moment does one begin the search to know.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pp. 10-11

Do We Know What We Seek in Our Lives?

We feel like something is missing in our lives. It could be something material, it could be just a pang of hunger or thirst. It could be a sense of emotional emptiness, unattached to a specific object. We may feel like we need to find out something, do something, know something, respond to something, although we are not quite sure exactly what it is. This sense of emptiness occurs to everyone at various times of life. In some cases, where it is attached to a specific desire we can identify what it is we seek. But in many cases, it is vague, amorphous, undefined.

As we grow in awareness, we may begin to have a feeling of aspiration toward something greater, something beyond us. Some seek a relationship with an external God or Savior. Some aspire to enlightenment, salvation, freedom from the bondage of Nature, or other forms that such an aspiration may take. This is a sign that we are readying ourselves to go beyond the body-life-mind complex and the attachment to the fruits of the external life. Even here, however, we are not always clear or certain about the specifics of our seeking, and as we grow, the nature of that seeking may change.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Man seeks at first blindly and does not even know that he is seeking his divine self; for he starts from the obscurity of material Nature and even when he begins to see, he is long blinded by the light that is increasing in him.”

A disciple asks: “How is it that one seeks something and yet does not know that one is seeking?”

The Mother responds: “There are so many things you think, feel, want, even do, without knowing it. Are you fully conscious of yourself and of all that goes on in you? — Not at all! If, for example, suddenly, without your expecting it, at a certain moment I ask you: ‘What are you thinking about?’ your reply, ninety-nine times out of a hundred will be: ‘I don’t know.’ And ‘What do you feel?’ — ‘I don’t know.’ It is only to those who are used to observing themselves, watching how they live, who are concentrated upon this need to know what is going on in them, that one can ask a precise question like this, and only they can immediately reply. In some instances in life, yes, one is absorbed in what one feels, thinks, wants, and then one can say, ‘Yes, I want that, I am thinking of that, I experience that’, but these are only moments of existence, not the whole time. … Haven’t you noticed that? No?”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pp. 9-10

The Usefulness of Suffering

Dr. Dean Ornish held a webinar on Sunday November 20, 2022 with the Vegan Society of Honolulu, Hawaii, in which he succinctly explained the role of suffering in the progress of humanity. For those who do not know about his work, Dr. Ornish has spent decades studying the impact of diet and lifestyle on human wellness, and has conducted peer reviewed studies with literally thousands of patients with various forms of advanced heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. His findings showed that with a switch to a vegetarian, or better still, a vegan, diet, focusing on low fat and low refined sugars and carbohydrates, combined with exercise, stress reduction techniques such as meditation, and opening the heart through relationships, intimacy and positive good will, these diseases not only could be arrested from further development, but could actually show substantial reversal. He pointed out that getting “compliance” with a new routine is generally quite difficult, but that his program has very high compliance rates. The reason was simple. People who started the program were suffering physically and were in many cases looking at a painful death from a terminal illness. Their primary care physicians held out only drugs and surgery as potential options, both with serious potential for additional pain, suffering, side effects and costs. Once they started on the Ornish program, they started seeing positive results virtually immediately, within a few weeks, and this made it clear to them that the future for them was held in these simple, ‘low tech’ solutions. The impetus to their making these somewhat major changes in their lives, in terms of switching from a meat-based, high fat, high sugar diet to in most cases a low fat, vegan diet, and in systematically adding exercise, stress reduction and building positive relationships was their suffering.

People do not make changes, particularly major changes, in the way they think, act and relate until they experience some form of suffering. It may be physical in the form of injury or disease, it may be vital and emotional in terms of closed off feelings, loneliness, anger reactions and the resultant effects of hypertension, high blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks, or it may be mental as they feel depressed, isolated and confused. The recognition of the suffering becomes the cause of reaching out for some way to reduce and relieve that suffering. For many, of course, they try to cover up the pain by self-medicating with alcohol or recreational drugs, or they create a false front of artificial happiness through external, though superficial, relationships, entertainments, diversions, etc. Until they find that these methods don’t provide any real solutions, or in fact may wind up increasing the suffering, they remain locked in the old patterns. Once they reach the point where they see no way out in their normal approach to the situation, they become open and receptive to changes that lead to both personal growth and inner growth.

We can see that it is pain, suffering, difficulties and obstacles that lead to progress as the being actively seeks for solutions that are not a priority when things are going well and they are enjoying their lives. Sri Aurobindo notes in Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol: “Pain is the hammer of the Gods to break a dead resistance in the mortal’s heart…”

A disciple asks: “What part has sorrow played in the evolution of humanity?”

The Mother answers: “Sorrow, desire, suffering, ambition and every other similar reaction in the feelings and sensations have all contributed to make consciousness emerge from the inconscience and to awaken this consciousness to the will for progress.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pg. 9

Progressively Becoming Conscious

Everyone believes they are ‘conscious’. Spiritual seekers, especially, having awakened from the purely mechanical, habitual processes of the external life, certainly believe they are conscious. Those who believe in various religious traditions, by virtue of that belief, accept that they are conscious. This belief, however, does not change the facts of their lives, or the numerous areas where their lives are purely based in habit and a form of dull sleepwalking.

Sometimes an individual has an experience that shocks him out of the comfort zone of his daily beliefs, acts and perceptions. An intense spiritual experience can do that. Based on this experience, the seeker now believes that he is conscious. In some religious traditions he will understand that he has been “born again into the spirit”. However, the experience is a momentary phenomenon and generally the seeker quickly reverts to established patterns, habits and ways of seeing, thinking, acting and interacting.

It is possible also to be relatively conscious in one aspect or part of the being, while remaining unconscious in other parts of the being. The human being is a complex amalgam of physical, vital, mental and psycho-spiritual elements and they do not all progress in the same way or at the same time, or at the same speed.

The Mother was asked the question: When can one say that one is conscious?

The Mother responds: “That is always a relative question. One is never altogether unconscious and one is never completely conscious. It is a progressive state. … But a time comes when instead of doing things automatically, impelled by a consciousness and force of which one is quite unaware — a time comes when one can observe what goes on in oneself, study one’s movements, find their causes, and at the same time begin to exercise a control first over what goes on within us, then on the influence cast on us from outside which makes us act, in the beginning altogether unconsciously and almost involuntarily, but gradually more and more consciously; and the will can wake up and react. Then at that moment, the moment there is a conscious will capable of reacting, one may say, ‘I have become conscious.’ This does not mean that it is a total and perfect consciousness, it means that it is a beginning: for example, when one is able to observe all the reactions in one’s being and to have a certain control over them, to let those one approves of have play, and to control, stop, annul those one doesn’t approve of. … Besides, you must become aware within of something like a goal or a purpose or an ideal you want to realise; something other than the mere instinct which impels you to live without your knowing why or how. At that time you may say you are conscious, but it doesn’t mean you are perfectly conscious. And moreover, this perfection is so progressive that I believe nobody can say he is perfectly conscious; he is on the way to becoming perfectly conscious, but he isn’t yet.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pp. 8-9