Moving the Standpoint of Consciousness to the Mental World

Just as the awareness can be shifted to the vital plane or world, the seeker also has the potential to move the standpoint of the consciousness to the mental plane. Neither the shift to the vital world, nor that to the mental world represents a real spiritual transformation, as it is still manipulating the forces, energies and factors of the world of Matter-Life-Mind. Sri Aurobindo advises: “Living on these we are, whatever the enlargement of our powers and our consciousness, still living within the limits of the cosmic gods and subject, though with a much subtler, easier and modified subjection, to the reign of Prakriti over Purusha. To achieve real freedom and mastery we have to ascend to a yet higher level of the many-plateaued mountain of our being.”

The process involved, however, is useful as a preparation for the higher ascent and the results may aid the seeker in this achievement, if the seeker does not become attached to the powers and the presence of the vital, or the mental world as an end in itself. Sri Aurobindo describes the process and results of moving the consciousness to the mental world:

“By doing so we can become the mental self and draw up the physical and vital being into it, so that life and body and their operations become to us minor circumstances of our being used by the Mind-soul which we now are for the execution of its lower purposes that belong to the material existence. Here too we acquire at first a certain remoteness from the life and the body and our real life seems to be on quite another plane than material man’s, in contact with a subtler existence, a greater light of knowledge than the terrestrial, a far rarer and yet more sovereign energy; we are in touch in fact with the mental plane, aware of the mental worlds, can be in communication with its beings and powers. From that plane we behold the desire-world and the material existence as if below us, things that we can cast away from us if we will and in fact easily reject when we relinquish the body, so as to dwell in the mental or psychical heavens. But we can also, instead of being thus remote and detached, become rather superior to the life and body and the vital and material planes and act upon them with mastery from our new height of being. Another sort of dynamis than physical or vital energy, something that we may call pure mind-power and soul-force, which the developed human being uses indeed but derivately and imperfectly, but which we can now use freely and with knowledge, becomes the ordinary process of our action, while desire-force and physical action fall into a secondary place and are only used with this new energy behind them and as its occasional channels. We are in touch and sympathy also with the Mind in cosmos, conscious of it, aware of the intentions, directions, thought-forces, struggle of subtle powers behind all happenings, which the ordinary man is ignorant of or can only obscurely infer from the physical happening, but which we can now see and feel directly before there is any physical sign or even vital intimation of their working. We acquire too the knowledge and sense of the mind-action of other beings whether on the physical plane or on those above it; and the higher capacities of the mental being,–occult powers or Siddhis, but of a much rarer or subtler kind than those proper to the vital plane,–naturally awake in our consciousness.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 20, The Lower Triple Purusha, pp. 444-445

Moving the Standpoint of Consciousness to the Vital World

Human awareness is not absolutely limited to the physical consciousness. It is indeed possible to move the basis of consciousness out of the physical world and into the vital or other worlds, where the principle of action, rather than being diluted through diffusion in the physical world, takes on the native characteristics of that world, and from there, acts with more power and directness on the physical.

Sri Aurobindo describes some of the methods and results: “This may be done, on the side of Purusha, by drawing back from the physical self and its preoccupation with physical nature and through concentration of thought and will raising oneself into the vital and then into the mental self. By doing so we can become the vital being and draw up the physical self into that new consciousness, so that we are only aware of the body, its nature and its actions as secondary circumstances of the Life-soul which we now are, used by it for its relations with the material world.”

“A certain remoteness from physical being and then a superiority to it; a vivid sense of the body being a mere instrument or shell and easily detachable; an extraordinary effectivity of our desires on our physical being and life-environment; a great sense of power and ease in manipulating and directing the vital energy of which we now become vividly conscious, for its action is felt by us concretely, subtly physical in relation to the body, sensible in a sort of subtle density as an energy used by the mind; an awareness of the life-plane in us above the physical and knowledge and contact with the beings of the desire-world; a coming into action of new powers,–what are usually called occult powers or Siddhis; a close sense of and sympathy with the Life-soul in the world and a knowledge or sensation of the emotions, desires, vital impulses of others; these are some of the signs of this new consciousness gained by Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 20, The Lower Triple Purusha, pp. 443-444

Transcending the Domination of the Physical Self

For the most part, we remain mystified by the entire meaning of life, birth and death. This is due to our starting point in the consciousness of the physical self. As the vital and mental powers begin to evolve and develop, they each, in their own way, begin to transform and transcend the physical nature of the world. We can see this as the plant, and later the animal, turns “dead matter” into living matter with higher levels of responsiveness and reactivity than physical forms absent the vital input; and we can see this with the development of the mental powers in the world of Matter and the enormous transformations that the mind carries out in terms of manipulating and changing both Matter and Life-Energy.

None of this has any real meaning either, absent the larger context that incorporates the process of life-death-rebirth and the evolutionary mechanism that is inherent in that process. And this larger context is largely invisible to most individuals who remain based in the physical being, even with the input of vital and mental energies and forces enhancing their action and understanding.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “A more developed humanity allows us to make a better and freer use of all the capacities and experiences that we derive from the vital and mental planes of being, to lean more for support upon these hidden planes, be less absorbed by the physical and to govern and modify the original nature of the physical being by grater vital forces and powers from the desire-world and greater and subtler mental forces and powers from the psychical and intellectual planes. By this development we are able to rise to higher altitudes of the intermediary existence between death and rebirth and to make a better and more rapid use of rebirth itself for a yet higher mental and spiritual development. But even so, in the physical being which still determines the greater part of our waking self, we act without definite consciousness of the worlds or planes which are the sources of our action.”

“We are aware indeed of the life-plane and mind-plane of the physical being, but not of the life-plane and mind-plane proper or of the superior and larger vital and mental being which we are behind the veil of our ordinary consciousness. It is only at a high stage of development that we become aware of them and even then, ordinarily, only at the back of the action of our mentalised physical nature; we do not actually live on those planes, for if we did we could very soon arrive at the conscious control of the body by the life-power and of both by the sovereign mind; we should then be able to determine our physical and mental life to a very large extent by our will and knowledge as masters of our being and with a direct action of the mind on the life and body. By Yoga this power of transcending the physical self and taking possession of the higher selves may to a greater or less degree be acquired through a heightened and widened self-consciousness and self-mastery.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 20, The Lower Triple Purusha, pp. 442-443

The Stage of Predominance of the Physical Being

A progressive evolution of the involved divine consciousness is the nature of life in the material world. The ancient sages recognized that there are five Purushas, or “Beings” active in humanity, with each one founded in and based upon one of the sheathes or bodies in this evolutionary structure. The first of these five, is the physical being, which, as the name implies, is closely tied to the physical body and under control of the forces and activities of the material world. Even when the life force emerges and gains strength, representing the vital being, or when the mind develops, representing the mental being, those individuals who are rooted in the physical being are predominantly acted upon by the material world and this colors their vital and mental efforts as well.

Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “This physical soul is present everywhere in material Nature; it pervades the body, actuates obscurely its movements and is the whole basis of its experiences; it informs all things even that are not mentally conscious. But in man this physical being has become vitalised and mentalised; it has received something of the law and capacities of the vital and mental being and nature. But its possession of them is derivative, superimposed, as it were, on its original nature and exercised under subjection to the law and action of the physical existence and its instruments. It is this dominance of our mental and vital parts by the body and the physical nature which seems at first sight to justify the theory of the materialists that mind and life are only circumstances and results of physical force and all their operations explicable by the activities of that force in the animal body. In fact, entire subjection of the mind and life to the body is the characteristic of an undeveloped humanity, as it is in an even greater degree of the infra-human animal.”

As long as the soul remains under the predominant control of the physical being, it will take births that conform to the need to work out the issues at that level, until such time as it is prepared to move to the predominant action of the next level. “According to the theory of reincarnation those who do not get beyond this stage in the earthly life, cannot rise after death to the mental or higher vital worlds, but have to return from the confines of a series of physical planes to increase their development in the next earthly existence. For the undeveloped physical soul is entirely dominated by material nature and its impressions and has to work them out to a better advantage before it can rise in the scale of being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 20, The Lower Triple Purusha, pg. 442

Fulfilling the Human Aspiration For a Deeper Meaning to Existence

The material life in the world, presented to the human individual as the reality within which he has to live, strive and survive, is not the entirety of existence. Eventually, the human soul wakens to deeper stirrings and feels the human aspiration for something more and greater that can provide the context for the life we experience. Sri Aurobindo observes: “Science gives us the objective truth of existence and the superficial knowledge of our physical and vital being; but we feel that there are truths beyond which possibly through the cultivation of our subjective being and the enlargement of its powers may come to lie more and more open to us. When the knowledge of this world is ours, we are irresistibly impelled to seek for the knowledge of other states of existence beyond, and that is the reason why an age of strong materialism and scepticism is always followed by an age of occultism, of mystical creeds, of new religions and profounder seekings after the Infinite and the Divine.” Sri Aurobindo calls this, in The Life Divine, “The Human Aspiration” and it is clear that there is a deep-seated dissatisfaction which continually prods us with the sense that “this world is not all there is.”

Even for those who start from the attempt to simply understand the material world, the larger issues quickly come to the fore. A search into the microcosm of existence shows an incredibly powerful and extraordinarily well-organized structure for all Matter. When we look into the environment we see intricate interactions that speak to a larger consciousness that has organized it. Searching for answers to physical life, the scientist discovers unseen powers that can be codified into laws of physics and then applied to our lives, powers such as electricity, the electro-magnetic spectrum, nuclear energy, or gravitation, for instance. Looking outside we can find immense galaxies and universes interacting, expanding and contracting, with immense distances and powers that cannot even be fully imagined. Scientists go on to discover that Matter itself is Energy, and that Energy is Consciousness, and this launches the quest of science into the realm of consciousness and the spiritual paths of Yoga.

“We come to see that what is present to our physical senses is only the material shell of cosmic existence and what is obvious in our superficial mentality is only the margin of immense continents which lie behind unexplored. To explore them must be the work of another knowledge than that of physical science or of a superficial psychology.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 20, The Lower Triple Purusha, pg. 439

The Preoccupation of the Human Soul With the Material Life

The review of the planes of existence, and the ability to actually experience these planes and see their characteristic action, tells us that the world is substantially more complex and has substantially more significance than the human soul, preoccupied with the material life in the world is able to fully grasp.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “But to our ordinary materialised consciousness all this does not exist because it is hidden from us by our preoccupation with our existence in a little corner of the material universe and with the petty experiences of the little hour of time which is represented by our life in a single body upon this earth. To that consciousness the world is a mass of material things and forces thrown into some kind of shape and harmonised into a system of regulated movements by a number of fixed self-existent laws which we have to obey, by which we are governed and circumscribed and of which we have to get the best knowledge we can so as to make the most of this one brief existence which begins with birth, ends with death and has no second recurrence.”

However it is that we have become aware and come into existence in this world, we tend to take this all at face value as our entire existence. “Somehow or other a soul or mind has come to exist in a body and it stumbles about among things and forces which it does not very well understand, at first preoccupied with the difficulty of managing to live in a dangerous and largely hostile world and then with the effort to understand its laws and use them so as to make life as tolerable or as happy as possible so long as it lasts.”

The development of our physical capacities, vital, moral and emotional concepts, and our intellectual faculties for the most part is directed towards achieving these limited ends within this limited life. Speculations arise, of course, about the meaning of it all, and this leads to the various possible answers provided by the religions and philosophies; yet these tend to either get codified into systems of living in the world, thereby reinforcing the preoccupation with the outer life, or else, for a very few individuals they provide a starting point for the arduous search for meaning that leads to the spiritual life.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 20, The Lower Triple Purusha, pp. 438-439

The Desire-World and the Material World

When one takes up the practice of Yoga, one of the first issues to arise is how to deal with the force of desire. Desire for family, wealth, food, sex, power all are attractions with which the seeker must grapple. In order to truly solve this issue, the seeker needs to understand the actual relation between desire and his life in the physical body.

For most people, the arising of desires and the attempt to fulfill them does not lead to any self-reflection. It is just considered to be a natural process. This viewpoint actually has given impetus to the line of thought that believes the solution is to withdraw from active life in the world, thereby not giving any opportunity for the fulfillment of desires, as well as the more extreme paths which ask the seeker to “mortify” himself in order to provide a negative feedback loop whenever any kind of desire arises within him.

Sri Aurobindo takes a deeper view of the situation and points out that the vital world, or “desire-world” is actually the creator of the material world, infuses its energies and values into the physical world for its own purposes, and contains forces and beings who are constituted to work out and carry out various aspects of vital fulfillment. “In fact, the material world is really a sort of projection from the vital, a thing which it has thrown out and separated from itself in order to embody and fulfil some of its desires under conditions other than its own, which are yet the logical result of its own most material longings. Life on earth may be said to be the result of the pressure of this life-world on the material, inconscient existence of the physical universe.”

Most people when they think about other worlds or planes of existence, or “locations” such as heaven or hell, treat these as if they are physical locations outside or separate from the world within which we live and function. Sri Aurobindo observes that the vital worlds, and also the mental and other higher worlds are not geographically distant, but actually represent subtler sheathes which infuse and co-exist on a subtler level right here, and that there are interactions between these worlds and our world of physical existence. “The influences of the life-world are always pouring out on the material existence and producing there their powers and results which return again upon the life-world to modify it. From that the life-part in us, the desire-part is being always touched and influenced; there too are beneficent and malefic powers of good desire and evil desire which concern themselves with us even when we are ignorant of and unconcerned with them.”

Just as we have forms of conscious awareness in our physically-predominant world, so there are also conscious beings on each of the other planes, formed and acting from their predominant principle, in this case, the vital principle with its desire-fulfillment needs. “As we awaken to the higher planes of our existence, we become aware of them as friends or enemies, powers which seek to possess or which we can master, overcome, pass beyond and leave behind.”

In order, therefore to truly begin to address the action of desire upon the seeker through Yoga, these relations must be understood. “For the supra-material is as much a reality as the existence of mental beings in the material universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 19, The Planes of Our Existence, pp. 434-435