The Way to Make Steady and Lasting Progress in Spiritual Growth

When we begin to observe ourselves, the thoughts we entertain, the emotions we express, the feelings we have and accept, the physical reactions that occur within ourselves, it soon becomes clear that we are more ‘reactive’ than ‘active’. We respond to energies, vibrations, pressures from outside ourselves. We are conditioned, educated, and manipulated through external stimuli, social media, advertising campaigns, and social pressures to think a certain way, to believe certain things, to respond in approved ways. What of all of this can we truly say belongs to our own ‘self’, our own individuality, and has not been simply created or shaped by these external forces acting upon us.

Even this shaping pressure does not build a totally constant and consistent individuality. We tend to change our reactions based on the situations we face. Even if we have a generally consistent personality-complex, this too is dependent on the fluctuation of the Gunas, as well as differences of time and circumstance so that what we consider to be our ‘normal’ mode of response may undergo a radical alteration when we are confronted with some new force acting upon us. We take on the appearance of a radio receiver that changes its station based on whatever the loudest signal from outside happens to be at the moment.

The underlying issue is that the mind-life-body complex that makes up what we consider to be our personality, our ego-personality if you will, is not a fixed formation and does not, in the end, constitute our true selves. The famous dictum ‘know thyself’ is intended to take us deeper than the surface personality, just as Ramana Maharshi’s famous question ‘who am I’ is meant to take us beyond the shape of the ego that we represent normally as ourselves in the world.

The Mother observes: “… till the self-giving is firmly psychic there will be disturbances, the interval of dark moments between bright ones. It is only the psychic that keeps on progressing in an unbroken line, its movement a continuous ascension. All other movements are broken and discontinuous. And it is not till the psychic is felt as yourself that you can be an individual even; for it is the true self in you. Before the true self is known, you are a public place, not a being. There are so many clashing forces working in you; hence, if you wish to make real progress, know your own being…”

“You must learn to unite what you call your individual self with your true psychic individuality. Your present individuality is a very mixed thing, a series of changes which yet preserves a certain continuity, a certain sameness or identity of vibration in the midst of all flux. It is almost like a river which is never the same and yet has a certain definiteness and persistence of its own. Your normal self is merely a shadow of your true individuality which you will realise only when this normal individual which is differently poised at different times, now in the mental, then in the vital, at other times in the physical, gets into contact with the psychic and feels it as its real being. Then you will be one, nothing will shake or disturb you, you will make steady and lasting progress.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pg. 162


The Awakened Psychic Being Attracts What It Needs for Its Growth and Development

There has been a lot of publicity about what is called generally the “law of attraction”. This holds that an individual can focus on something and thereby cause it to be attracted to him. People have used it to try to attract wealth, romance, and other things they desire to themselves. There is, of course, an occult truth behind the connection between ‘subject’ and ‘object’ that takes place when the focus or concentration of the subject shifts to the object, and thereby can cause some attraction. The real problem with the way this is formulated in the popular imagination is that an individual’s mental, emotional and vital focus of energies is sufficient to draw together universal forces and results. For most people, with a limited power of concentration, and a limited power of persistence in that concentration, this is, for the most part, very illusory, and results are limited at best.

In his lectures on Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda describes the power of yogic concentration, samyama, to bring knowledge by identity to the practitioner of whatever is being focused on, and with it, the powers of the object of concentration. This of course requires a substantial ability to practice raja yoga in order to obtain the results. There may of course be individuals who have a natural capacity, based on past lifetime development, to effectuate such a form of concentration, but this capacity is actually rooted in the psychic being, which is the actual carrier of experience and growth from life to life.

When we look at the mechanism of the psychic being, the entire focus from life to life is the growth of the soul and the increasing awareness and purposeful adherence to the universal manifestation and the Divine intention. The soul does not focus on fulfilling the objects of desire, but rather, on circumstances and capacities that will enhance the soul’s awakening and growth. These may be circumstances that the ego-personality would judge as highly negative or painful! The pain and struggle may push the soul along its path more effectively than wonderful, satisfying circumstances in life.

The Mother writes: “If you have within you a psychic being sufficiently awake to watch over you, to prepare your path, it can draw towards you things which help you, draw people, books, circumstances, all sorts of little coincidences which come to you as though brought by some benevolent will and give you an indication, a help, a support to take decisions and turn you in the right direction. But once you have taken this decision, once you have decided to find the truth of your being, once you start sincerely on the road, then everything seems to conspire to help you to advance….”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pp. 161-162

The Growth of the Soul

It is the normal process of Nature that each being, each individual experiences life, interacts with his environment and with other individuals and forms thereby his physical being, his vital being and his mental being through these interactions. What is not easily recognised, due to the unseen central being around which these aspects form and develop, is that this process systematically provides an ever-richer basis of experience and growth to the soul, the psychic being. For a long time, this growth process is something that occurs slowly and steadily across countless lifetimes.

At a point when the individual becomes conscious of the soul and its growth, it becomes possible to focus the attention on this development, and the soul can then more swiftly move to provide more direction and guidance to the process, and accentuate its progress in this direction. The Mother provides guidance about how the soul’s progress can be accentuated and made the central focus of an individual’s life experience, once he becomes aware of it.

A disciple asks: “How can one make one’s psychic personality grow?

The Mother answers: “It is through all the experiences of life that the psychic personality forms, grows, develops and finally becomes a complete, conscious and free being.”

“This process of development goes on tirelessly through innumerable lives, and if one is not conscious of it, it is because one is not conscious of one’s psychic being — for that is the indispensable starting-point. Through interiorisation and concentration one has to enter into conscious contact with one’s psychic being. This psychic being always has an influence on the outer being, but that influence is almost always occult, neither seen nor perceived nor felt, save on truly exceptional occasions.”

“In order to strengthen the contact and aid, if possible, the development of the conscious psychic personality, one should, while concentrating, turn towards it, aspire to know it and feel it, open oneself to receive its influence, and take great care, each time that one receives an indication from it, to follow it very scrupulously and sincerely. To live in a great aspiration, to take care to become inwardly calm and remain so always as far as possible, to cultivate a perfect sincerity in all the activities of one’s being — these are the essential conditions for the growth of the psychic being.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pp. 160-161

The Evolutionary Progress of Nature and the Impact of the Conscious Participation of the Soul

Sri Aurobindo describes the long, slow process of development of the universal manifestation. There is an evolution of consciousness which takes place over time spanning many millennia, and which does not involve the conscious participation of the individual. At a certain point in time, when the human being develops and has achieved a certain level of self-awareness, he is able to participate consciously in this evolutionary process and thereby speed it up and make it more complete. It is at this stage that the individual generally becomes conscious of the psychic being, the spark of the Divine around which the evolutionary development coalesces and proceeds. Through more direct contact with the psychic being, the progress becomes more focused and is solidified.

The physical, vital and mental progress have their impact on the general texture and background of life, such that all human beings are impacted, to some degree, by that general progress. This provides a context for the soul in its next birth, as a basis for the next phase of development.

More particularly, a highly developed psychic being can actually formulate elements that it needs or requires in its next birth and can either focus the birth into an environment where those things are available, or else, can even create a formation that is carried along or promptly reassembled by the soul in its next birth.

A disciple inquires: “Then everybody is progressing, always, isn’t that so?”

The Mother responds: “In a certain way, yes. Only it may not be apparent in one lifetime, because when there is no conscious participation of the being, the movement is relatively slow, even relative to the short duration of human life. And so it is quite possible, for example, that at the moment of death a being seems not to have progressed, and even sometimes it seems to have been going backwards, to have lost what it had at the beginning of its life. But if we take the great life-curve of its psychic being through many lives, there is always a progress. Each experience it had in one of its physical lifetimes helps it to make some progress. But it is the psychic being which always progresses.”

“The physical being, in the state in which it is at present — well, having reached a certain point of ascent, it comes down again. There are elements which may not come down again grossly; but still it does come down, one can’t deny it.”

“The vital being — not necessarily, nor the mental being. The vital being, if it knows how to get connected with the universal force, can very easily have no retrogression; it can continue to ascend. And the mental being, its absolutely certain, is completely free from all degeneration if it continues to develop normally. So these always make progress so long as they remain co-ordinated and under the influence of the psychic.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pp. 159-160

The Value of Mental, Vital and Physical Progress for Future Births

Of what possible value is the effort at mental, emotional, vital or physical progress to the soul if it cannot carry that progress forward into the next, and future lives. In his epic poem, Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol, Sri Aurobindo raises the issue: “But the oblivion that succeeds the fall, Had blotted the crowded tablets of the past, And all that was destroyed must be rebuilt And old experience laboured out once more.”

There are several points to consider. If one looks at the question solely from the viewpoint of an individual soul and its experience, for most cases there is a limited but real benefit to the soul as it has gathered the essence of the experience and the progress which can be a foundation for the next phase in the next lifetime. In rare instances, some of the actual progress or formations, if tightly bound to the psychic, can carry forward, but that is obviously not the usual circumstance. Yet, if we look at it from the standpoint of the larger universal creation, the progress clearly helps advance the general state of consciousness, and provides a new fertile basis for the soul to enter in its next birth that provides a systemic enhancement to the process, benefiting not just the individual soul, but the collective development.

It is generally not necessary for the soul to actually repeat over and over again its exact developmental steps and progress from life to life. Even if it is not carrying specific development on the mental, vital or physical level forward, it benefits from the general enhancement as well as from the essential experience and can use this as the basis for new upward effort and momentum.

A disciple asks: “If it is not the mind, vital or physical which take birth again but only the psychic being, then the vital or mental progress made before is of no value in another life?

The Mother answers: “It happens only to the extent the progress of these parts has brought them close to the psychic, that is, to the extent the progress lies in putting all the parts of the being successively under the psychic influence. For all that is under the psychic influence and identified with the psychic continues, and it is that alone which continues. But if the psychic is made the centre of one’s life and consciousness, and if the whole being is organised around it, the whole being passes under the psychic influence, becomes united with it, and can continue — if it is necessary for it to continue.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pg. 159

The Soul, its Evolutionary Development on Earth and the Universal Manifestation

In the ancient texts of India, it is said that a human birth is essential for progress, and that even the Gods, if they desire to attain some new development, need to take birth in a human form. It is clear that generally the physical body, the vital nature and the mental development dissolve sequentially upon the death and dissolution of the body. It becomes obvious therefore that the development, the evolutionary progression that takes place, is not based in the body-life-mind complex or the ego-personality that attaches to them in any particular lifetime. It is at this point that the role of the psychic being, the soul, comes into play. It is the psychic being that survives death and takes a new form and enters a new life once it is ready to do so, having assimilated the essence of the experience of the completed life. This is not a particular individuality, not a particular ego, not a particular personality, but a spark of the Divine which carries out the mechanism of the universal creation in its unfolding of the increasing powers of consciousness being manifested.

Depending on the development and maturity of the specific psychic entity, it may actually play a role in the formation of a specific life experience and set of capacities in the body, the life-force and the mind it takes on. Yet for most, it is a matter of being drawn more or less automatically through affinity based on the level and stage of growth it has previously achieved, so as to have the appropriate set of experiences for its level of development.

The Mother observes: “The centre of organisation and transformation is always the presence of the psychic in the body. Therefore, it is a very big mistake to believe that the progress continues or even, as some believe, that it is more complete and rapid in the periods of transition between two physical lives; in general, there is no progress at all, for the psychic enters into a state of rest and the other parts, after a more or less ephemeral life in their own domain, are dissolved.”

“Earthly life is the place for progress. It is here, on earth, that progress is possible, during the period of earthly existence. And it is the psychic which carries the progress over from one life to another, by organising its own evolution and development itself.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pp. 158-159

The Case for the Rare Instance of an Ongoing Physical, Vital or Mental Formation Surviving the Death of the Individual

We have no difficulty seeing and understanding that an individual can create a legacy in the physical world we inhabit, as we see the evidence everywhere around us in the form of buildings, enterprises, religious movements, mental developments and conceptualization, and artistic creations, not to speak of the children that carry on much of our physical development and in many cases, our enterprises into future generations. These things continue to exist even when the individual who represented the driving force for their creation has left the scene.

We have a much more difficult time, however, appreciating that a highly developed formation, such as a mental framework or vital activity or an advanced physical capacity, can be so solidly formed that they can actually survive the normal process of death and dissolution and continue as fixed formations on their own, and potentially adhere themselves to another individual who has affinity with these formations.

It would of course take an extraordinary concentration to build a physical, vital or mental formation that can hold together upon the death of the body and, indeed, the separate direction taken by the psychic being as it continues its evolutionary growth in other lifetimes. Such a formation need not stay with the particular psychic entity that created it, but could in theory become available to whichever individual or individuals have affinity for it in terms of receptivity to the vibration and the willingness to receive and integrate that formation into his or their own lives. It is not impossible to consider this as possible, and there are likely instances that can be pointed to which seem to validate this idea. This does not represent the normal case where these formations found in an individual lifetime will simply dissolve, quickly or slowly as the case may be, once the framework of the physical body which holds them together, and the psychic being that formulated them depart.

The Mother writes: “In artists, as for instance in certain musicians who have used their hands in a particularly conscious way, the vital and mental substance is preserved in the form of hands, and these hands remain fully conscious, they can even use the body of living people if there is a special affinity — and so on.”

“Otherwise, in ordinary people in whom the psychic form is not fully developed and organised, when the psychic leaves the body, the mental and vital forms may persist for a certain time if the death has been particularly peaceful and concentrated, but if a man dies suddenly and in a state of passion, with numerous attachments, well, the different parts of the being are dispersed and live for a shorter or longer time their own life in their own domain, then disappear.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pg. 158

The Mental and Vital Formation May Transfer Into a Next Lifetime Under Certain Conditions

There are phenomena that are inexplicable under our normal understanding of life and death. The body dissolves, certainly, and the vital being and mental disperse soon thereafter and return into their native planes. Yet we find that occasionally it seems like a particular understanding or capacity has been continued as if from an earlier life, and we have to explore how this may occur.

The phenomenon of the reincarnation of the high Lamas of Tibet, such as the Dalai Lama, who are in fact located and identified by their clear affinity to and memory of physical tools or things they used in the prior lifetime, gives us an insight to a facet of existence that goes beyond our normal perception, and which occurs in highly evolved and advanced souls who are able to organise their consciousness and their mental and vital powers in a very high degree, such that they can hold together beyond death.

We also note that sometimes a child is born with capacities that simply were not possible to be acquired and learned fresh in that infant’s short life. When we hear of great composers such as Mozart or Beethoven and their exploits in the musical realm at such an early stage, it becomes clear that this capacity has been brought forward somehow from a past developemnt.

There are also documented instances where an individual may know a language other than one from the land where they are born, or may have clear memories of places, people and events that occurred in a past time and place. These things make it clear that in some cases, albeit rarely, the mental or vital formation of one lifetime is able to survive death and continue in some fashion in a new life and individuality.

The Mother notes: “When it has become an almost completely formed and already very conscious being, it presides over the formation of the new body, and usually through an inner influence it chooses the elements and the substance which will form its body in such a way that the body is adapted to the needs of its new experience. But this is at a rather advanced stage. And later, when it is fully formed and returns to earth with the idea of service, of collective help and participation in the divine Work, then it is able to bring to the body in formation certain elements of the mind and vital from previous lives which, having been organised and impregnated with psychic forces in previous lives, could be preserved and, consequently, can participate in the general progress. But this is at a very, very advanced stage.”

“When the psychic is fully developed and very conscious, when it becomes a conscious instrument of the divine Will, it organises the vital and the mind in such a way that they too participate in the general harmony and can be preserved.”

“A high degree of development allows at least some parts of the mental and vital beings to be preserved in spite of the dissolution of the body. If, for instance, some parts — mental or vital — of the human activity have been particularly developed, these elements of the mind and vital are maintained even ‘in their form’ in the form of the activity which has been fully organised — as, for example, in highly intellectual people who have particularly developed their brains, the mental part of their being keeps this structure and is preserved in the form of an organised brain which has its own life and can be kept unchanged until a future life so as to participate in it with all its gains.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pp. 157-158

Exploring Rebirth of the Soul into New Bodies and New Lives

While a segment of humanity does not accept the idea of rebirth, choosing instead to either suggest that this one lifetime is the entire frame and limit of an individual’s existence, or else, that after death they will be resurrected to go before a seat of judgment and either be assigned to heaven, or hell, for all eternity. We then come to those that accept rebirth in some form as providing meaning and significance to life and the evolutionary development taking place in the universal manifestation. Traditional Buddhist thought does not accept the idea of a unique soul moving from birth to birth (although Tibetan Buddhism comes closest to this concept with its travel of the individual through an intermediate zone they call the ‘bardo’ and eventually taking a new birth, and in the concept of reincarnation of great lamas such as the various incarnations of the Dalai Lama). In Rebirth and Karma, as well as in specific chapters on the subject in The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo makes the case as to why the development of the universal creation and the evolution of consciousness requires some entity, which he calls the psychic being, or which may be called generally, the soul, is a necessary element in the machinery of the universe and this progression of developing consciousness.

The popular conception takes the very idea of rebirth and creates several imaginative, albeit fanciful, ideas about it. One conception is the idea that someone can be reborn as a dog, or a cat or a fish if they act in some way that is considered less than fully human in their lifetime. Another conception, more directly on point, is that what we experience as our being, our external personality, in this lifetime is what we carry through from one life to the next, and while we may forget the specifics, we carry through with the intellectual, emotional, vital and physical developments of the past lifetime(s) and indeed reassemble in a new body the framework of relationships, etc. that pertained in this life. A more carefully thought-out view, however, makes it clear that just as the physical body dissolves, the vital body, the emotional body and eventually the mental body also dissolve, leaving only the central essential being, the psychic being or soul, with its essence of the experiences it has gathered, to take the new birth and experience an entirely new and different life, founded on a basis of the past experience of the soul, and focused on the next phase of that soul’s growth and development. It remains, of course, remotely possible for some specific mental, vital or physical capacity to be reintegrated in the new lifetime, and there are even rare cases whereby a reincarnated soul actually brings forward memories and talents acquired in a previous lifetime, although it must be cautioned that this is not the normal state of affairs, but one that is reserved for highly conscious souls who are in fact not attached to an individual personality or body, but who have already transcended and moved their focus of consciousness outside that limited framework.

A disciple asks: “Mother, since in each new life the mind and vital as well as the body are new, how can the experiences of past lives be useful for them? Do we have to go through all the experiences once again?”

The Mother replies: “That depends on people! … It is not the mind and vital which develop and progress from life to life — except in altogether exceptional cases and at a very advanced stage of evolution — it is the psychic. So, this is what happens: the psychic has alternate periods of activity and rest; it has a life of progress resulting from experiences of the physical life, of active life in a physical body, with all the experiences of the body, the vital and the mind; then, normally, the psychic goes into a kind of rest for assimilation where the result of the progress accomplished during its active existence is worked out, and when this assimilation is finished, when it has absorbed the progress it had prepared in its active life on earth, it comes down again in a new body bringing with it the result of all its progress and, at an advanced stage, it even chooses the environment and the kind of body and the kind of life in which it will live to complete its experience concerning one point or another. In some very advanced cases the psychic can, before leaving the body, decide what kind of life it will have in its next incarnation.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pp. 156-157

The Two Most Powerful Levers to Enter Into Contact with the Divine in One’s Psychic Being

When an individual begins to recognise the existence of his soul, and seeks for a way to come into contact with it, and begins to thereby understand the purpose and significance of his life in the larger creation, the first question that comes to mind is ‘how do I do that?’

This leads to a period when an individual becomes a seeker, and this generally involves searching for individuals or written material that may help provide guidance, finding a suitable group of people who are themselves ‘on the path’, and taking up practices that may involve yoga, vision quests, meditation, contemplation, prayer, or other long-practiced means of achieving a spiritual breakthrough.

The Mother places emphasis on several seemingly simple ways to come into contact with the psychic being, the soul, and thereby the Divine presence in the manifestation. They involve breaking out of the limiting shell of the ego-personality in one way or another to open oneself to the wider reality and its meaning. She describes these ‘levers’ as ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘gratitude’.

The Mother observes: “There are two principal things. This, the capacity for enthusiasm which makes one come out of his greater or lesser inertia in order to throw himself more or less totally into the thing which rouses him. As for instance, the artist for his art, the scientist for his science. And in general, every person who creates or builds has an opening, the opening of a special faculty, a special possibility, creating an enthusiasm in him. When this is active, something in the being awakens, and there is a participation of almost the whole being in the thing done.”

“There is this. And then there are those who have an innate faculty of gratitude, those who have an ardent need to respond, respond with warmth, devotion, joy, to something which they feel like a marvel hidden behind the whole of life, behind the tiniest little element, the least little event of life, who feel this sovereign beauty or infinite Grace which is behind all things.”

“I knew people who had no knowledge, so to say, of anything, who were hardly educated, whose minds were altogether of the ordinary kind, and who had in them this capacity of gratitude, of warmth, which gives itself, understands and is thankful.”

“Well, for them, the contact with the psychic was very frequent, almost constant and, to the extent that they were capable of it, conscious — not very conscious but a little — in the sense that they felt that they were carried, helped, uplifted above themselves.”

“These two things prepare people the most. They are born with one or the other; and if they take the trouble, it develops gradually, it increases.”

“We say: the capacity for enthusiasm, something which throws you out of your miserable and mean little ego; and the generous gratitude, the generosity of the gratitude which also flings itself in thanksgiving out of the little ego. These are the two most powerful levers to enter into contact with the Divine in one’s psychic being. This serves as a link with the psychic being — the surest link.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pp. 155-156