The Necessity to Shift the Standpoint of the Being from the Surface Personality to the Inner Self

The usual life of humanity is based in what Sri Aurobindo calls the “surface personality”.  This is a construct centered around the ego consciousness, which interacts with and constantly reacts to the impressions and impulsions of the world.  We take on the color of the reactions and become enmeshed in them.  We become angry and react.  We experience everything on the surface of our being and our consciousnes is focused outward.

The psychic transformation, the emergence of the soul at the center of our existence, and the connection of the soul with the universal and transcendent aspects of the divine, involves a shift of standpoint from this outer ego-centric personality to a deeper soul-essence that finds its basis and reference in the Oneness of the creation.  This “true soul” (as contrasted with the “desire-soul” of the surface being), experiences a deep sense of calm, peace and equality which permeates the life and maintains a separation from the reactions of the surface personality, which can now be observed, as by a witness consciousness.  Sri Aurobindo once said “live within, be not shaken by outward happenings”.  This represents the shift of standpoint, for example, as we do not “become” anger, when it arises, but we “observe” the anger rising, and eventually, we can look on its rise dispassionately, and adjust our response to the situation for the soul’s perspective.  This change takes place progressively over time and with practice, and as it takes hold, we are no longer limited by the reactions of the outer being.

Sri Aurobindo notes in The Life Divine:  “But, for this change to arrive at its widest totality and profound completeness, the consciousness has to shift its centre and its static and dynamic position from the surface to the inner being; it is there that we must find the foundation for our thought, life and action.  For to stand outside on our surface and to receive from the inner being and follow its intimations is not a sufficient transformation; one must cease to be the surface personality and become the inner Person, the Purusha…. It then becomes possible to pass through to the depths of our being and from the depths so reached a new consciousness can be formed, both behind the exterior self and in it, joining the depths to the surface.  There must grow up within us or there must manifest a consciousness more and more open to the deeper and the higher being, more and more laid bare to the cosmic Self and Power and to what comes down from the Transcendence, turned to a higher Peace, permeable to a greater light, force and ecstasy, a consciousness that exceeds the small personality and surpasses the limited light and experience of the surface mind, the limited force and aspiration of the normal life-consciousness, the obscure and limited responsiveness of the body.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 70

The Triple Path of Knowledge, Devotion and Works Prepares the Being Integrally for the Spiritual Change

Human beings are complex, with differing focus and needs for the differing parts of our being, which also speak to various interactions between us and the world around us.  The evolutionary force in the universal creation works through all of these parts and levels and interactions to create its progressive manifestation.  Focusing on any one aspect, therefore, while it may bring about individual progress for that part of the being, nevertheless does so at the expense of the other aspects of our lives.

It is therefore eventually important, whether through sequential development, or concurrent efforts, for each primary aspect of the human individuality to develop and reach its spiritual fulfillment.   Eventually there must be mental, emotional and vital progress whereby each part of our being achieves its spiritual state of Oneness, not through exclusive concentration that denies the need or right of the other parts, but through an integral development that brings about spiritual change throughout the entire being, both inwardly and in its relations with others and in the world-movement.

The Yoga of knowledge, the Yoga of love and devotion, and the Yoga of works represent the development, respectively of the mental power, the emotional power, and the vital will in action.  They prepare the being for the spiritual transformation as the hold of the outer being and the desire-soul is loosened and the ego-sense diminishes so that the true soul can guide the development in the next phase of the evolution of the universal creation.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “A combination of all these three approaches, the approach of the mind, the approach of the will, the approach of the heart, creates a spiritual or psychic condition of the surface being and nature in which there is a larger and more complex openness to the psychic light within us and to the spiritual Self or the Ishwara, to the Reality now felt above and enveloping and penetrating us.  In the nature there is a more powerful and many-sided change, a spiritual building and self-creation, the appearance of a composite perfection of the saint, the selfless worker and the man of spiritual knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 70

The Method of the Soul’s Emergence Through the Field of Action in the World

Emergence of the soul in the individual’s life and actions in the world requires more than just the mental experiences or even the heart’s devotion: the effectuating will in action must be harnessed to the truth that the seeker sees and feels inwardly.  This may begin with a feeling of consecration of action, but eventually, the ego-sense and the motivation of the force of desire must be replaced by the sense that the work comes from the divine, is guided and directed by the divine, and carries out the divine purpose in the world.  Those who practice this harnessing of the vital force in life practice what is commonly known as Karma Yoga, the Yoga of works.

This consecration is not strictly limited to actions of the mind or the heart’s devotional turn; rather it encompasses eventually all actions that an individual can take up in the world.  There is no distinction to be made, in the inner attitude, between sacred activities and secular activities:  in this process all activities eventually are fulfillment of the divine Will in the world and thus, aligned with divine purpose.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine:  “This larger change can be partly attained by adding to the experiences of the heart a consecration of the pragmatic will which must succeed in carrying with it — for otherwise it cannot be effective, — the adhesion of the dynamic vital part which supports the mental dynamis and is our first instrument of outer action.  This consecration of the will in works proceeds by a gradual elimination of the ego-will and its motive-power of desire; the ego subjects itself to some higher law and finally effaces itself, seems not to exist or exists only to serve a higher Power or a higher Truth or to offer its will and acts to the Divine Being as an instrument.  The law of being and action or the light of Truth which then guides the seeker, may be a clarity or power or principle which he perceives on the highest height of which his mind is capable; or it may be a truth of the divine Will which he feels present and working within him or guiding him by a Light or a Voice or a Force or a Divine Person or Presence.  In the end by this way one arrives at a consciousness in which one feels the Force or Presence acting within and moving or governing all the actions and the personal will is entirely surrendered or identified with that greater Truth-Will, Truth-Power or Truth-Presence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 69

Soul-Contact With the Divine Through the Way of the Heart

The heart knows what the mind does not grasp.  Too often, those with strong development of their mental capacities become fixated on a specific line of approach or development and limit their understanding to the framework so defined.  As the proverb goes, they then “cannot see the forest for the trees”.  A high mental development, focused on spiritual attainment can indeed bring about an opening to the Reality in the form of a vast impersonal Absolute; yet it often leads to abandonment of interest in or active participation in the life of the world.  Additionally not every one is suited to the arduous path of knowledge.

Another approach to the Divine takes place by harnessing the heart’s emotional capacity, which brings with it a deep devotional force and a potential for the ecstatic joy of union with the personal form of the Divine.  The devotee loses himself in the love for the Divine and can experience states of bliss and union.  Not for the devotee is the dry, isolated and abstract seeking of those following the path of knowledge.  The devotee revels in the love, the joy, the ecstasy, the feeling of Oneness with a Personality that meets the devotee where he is, as a mother, a father, a friend, a child, a lover.

This path too has its limitations and does not bring about the complete transformation of all parts of the being and the relationship to the outer world.  Frequently the mind is disregarded, or the vital force is channeled into purely devotional pastimes and the outer world is left to its own devices without significant opportunity to evolve.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “A second approach made by the soul to the direct contact is through the heart: this is its own more close and rapid way because its occult seat is there, just behind in the heart-centre, in close contact with the emotional being in us; it is consequently through the emotions that it can act best at the beginning with its native power, with its living force of concrete experience.  It is through a love and adoration of the All-beautiful and All-blissful, the All-Good, the True, the spiritual Reality of love, that the approach is made; the aesthetic and emotional parts join together to offer the soul, the life, the whole nature to that which they worship.  This approach through adoration can get its full power and impetus only when the mind goes beyond impersonality to the awareness of a supreme Personal Being: then all becomes intensive, vivid, concrete; the heart’s emotion, feeling, spiritualised sense reach their absolute; an entire self-giving becomes possible, imperative.  The nascent spiritual man makes his appearance in the emotional nature as the devotee, the bhakta; if, in addition, he becomes directly aware of his soul and its dictates, unites his emotional with his psychic personality and changes his life and vital parts by purity, God-ecstasy, the love of God and men and all creatures into a thing of spiritual beauty, full of divine light and good, he develops into the saint and reaches the highest inner experience and most considerable change of nature proper to this way of approach to the Divine Being.  But for the purpose of an integral transformation this too is not enough; there must be a transmutation of the thinking mind and all the vital and physical parts of consciousness in their own character.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pp. 68-69

The Heights of the Spiritualised Mind

Historically, the way of the ascetic, the Yogi, the renunciate, has been revered as a high and difficult path, leading away from the world and its distractions, and bringing the seeker to the heights of spiritual realisation of the Infinite, the Absolute.  There is no doubt that this path presents many difficulties for anyone who takes it up out of a mental, emotional or vital conviction, or through a sense of weakness in facing the obstacles of the worldly life.  It is not easy to overcome the promptings of hunger and thirst, the pressures of cold, heat and wind, the urging of desires, and all of the arguments for continued action in the world!  This path is certainly not suited for all people.  Those who follow it achieve a unique realisation.

Sri Aurobindo points out, however, that the evolutionary process of Nature is not intended solely to lead to the renunciation of the natural life; rather, there is an intended spiritual transformation that represents the next stage in evolution.  Thus, a spiritual realisation, no matter how high and how difficult to achieve, is not the end of the path, but in a certain sense, the beginning.  Once one achieves the spiritual realisation, there is still the change to be brought to the outer life in the world.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo writes:  “A higher endeavour through the mind does not change this balance; for the tendency of the spiritualised mind is to go on upwards and, since above itself the mind loses its hold on forms, it is into a vast formless and featureless impersonality that it enters.  It becomes aware of the unchanging Self, the sheer Spirit, the pure bareness of an essential Existence, the formless Infinite and the nameless Absolute.  This culmination can be arrived at more directly by tending immediately beyond all forms and figures, beyond all ideas of good or evil or true or false or beautiful or unbeautiful to That which exceeds all dualities, to the experience of a supreme oneness, infinity, eternity or other ineffable sublimation of the mind’s ultimate and extreme percept of Self or Spirit.  A spiritualised consciousness is achieved and the life falls quiet, the body ceases to need and to clamour, the soul itself merges into the spiritual silence.  But this transformation through the mind does not give us the integral transformation; the psychic transmutation is replaced by a spiritual change on the rare and high summits, but this is not the complete divine dynamisation of Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pp. 67-68

The Spiritual Turn of the Thinking Mind

The soul influence on the individual may take place predominantly in any part of the being which is developed and receptive to that influence.  For many, it is the mind that takes on the receptivity and becomes the primary instrument of the soul’s action.  The mind naturally has the capacity of distancing itself to some degree from the physical and vital aspects of life, and with its powers of reasoning and abstract thought, imagination and creative exploration, it has the potential to open to new directions and influences.

There is an entire branch of Yoga, called Jnana Yoga, which focuses on the mental power as the leverage to attain realisation.  Using the powers of discriminating intellect, the Jnana Yogi turns his attention to “first causes” and universal existence, away from the day to day affairs that frequently preoccupy the mind entwined with the vital and physical needs.

There is another branch of Yoga, called Raja Yoga, which focuses on observation of the mind-stuff in its pure and essential state, bringing it to quiescence and observing from that status so that outer influences from the sense perceptions or thoughts and forces active in the outer being are left aside.  This leads to a state of indrawn concentration or trance, samadhi, where the Yogi becomes one in awareness of consciousness with the Universal and Transcendent Being and the Source of the creation.

The abstract powers of the mind may try to achieve new heights at the expense of the outward focus of attention and the outer life.  We see then a bifurcation where the life-energy and the body are either mostly abandoned or left to themselves, untransformed and unattended, while the mind seeks out new vistas of thought and inner experience.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “The soul may attempt to achieve this contact mainly through the thinking mind as intermediary and instrument; it puts a psychic impression on the intellect and the larger mind of insight and intuitional intelligence and turns them in that direction.  At its highest the thinking mind is drawn always towards the impersonal; in its search it becomes conscious of a spiritual essence, an impersonal Reality which expresses itself in all these outward signs and characters but is more than any formation or manifesting figure.  It feels something of which it becomes intimately and invisibly aware, — a supreme Truth, a supreme Beauty, a supreme Purity, a supreme Bliss; it bears the increasing touch, less and less impalpable and abstract, more and more spiritually real and concrete, the touch and pressure of an Eternity and Infinity which is all this that is and more.  There is a pressure from this Impersonality that seeks to mould the whole mind into a form of itself; at the same time the impersonal secret and law of things becomes more and more visible.  The mind develops into the mind of the sage, at first the high mental thinker, then the spiritual sage who has gone beyond the abstractions of thought to the beginnings of direct experience.  As a result the mind becomes pure, large, tranquil, impersonal; there is a similar tranquillising influence on the parts of life: but otherwise the result may remain incomplete; for the mental change leads more naturally towards an inner status and an outer quietude, but, poised in this purifying quietism, not drawn like the vital parts towards a discovery of new life-energies, does not press for a full dynamic effect on the nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 67

The First Condition of the Soul’s Emergence

As we live our lives, we focus on the outer circumstances of our existence, our hunger and thirst, our needs, our desires, our education, our careers, our interests and desire for entertainment, our attraction to others and creation of families,  and our religious or philosophical idea-sets.  There is little room here for the soul to emerge, as we have occupied our lives with all of these things and feel content.  At some point, however, when the experiences of life have brought about the needed development of body, life and mind, another process begins to occur.  There may be some unusual revelation, such as a near-death experience.  Someone may be struck by lightning!  For others, however, there can be a subtle touch or influence felt from an experience of a beautiful piece of music, or through time spent in nature, or through contact with an individual who is in touch with the soul element in his or her own life.  However it comes, this initial contact begins to assert itself in a search for meaning, in an attempt to understand the deeper wellsprings of existence that we had heretofore ignored.  From that point forward, the soul uses various opportunities to come forward, and various experiences take place to guide the individual to a new standpoint and a new basis of understanding his existence.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine:  “A first condition of the soul’s complete emergence is a direct contact in the surface being with the spiritual Reality.  Because it comes from that, the psychic element in us turns always towards whatever in phenomenal Nature seems to belong to a higher Reality and can be accepted as its sign and character.  At first, it seeks this Reality through the good, the true, the beautiful, through all that is pure and fine and high and noble: but although this touch through outer signs and characters can modify and prepare the nature, it cannot entirely or most inwardly and profoundly change it.  For such an inmost change the direct contact with the Reality itself is indispensable since nothing else can so deeply touch the foundations of our being and stir it or cast the nature by its stir into a ferment of transmutation.  Mental representations, emotional and dynamic figures have their use and value; Truth, Good and Beauty are in themselves primary and potent figures of the Reality, and even in their forms as seen by the mind, as felt by the heart, as realised in the life can be lines of an ascent: but it is in a spiritual substance and being of them and of itself that That which they represent has to come into our experience.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 66

The Soul and the Multiple Aspects of Human Personality

We identify with our ego-personality and consider ourselves to be both unique and whole, but in reality, the ego-personality is a construct that is made up of a number of different levels and aspects of our being that exercise a varying amount of influence on the eventual life we lead.  There is the physical body which has its own capacities and incapacities, needs and basic habits of action.  This conditions things like the diet we eat, the sleep and waking needs, the responsiveness of the body to demands put on it, and the basic immune system resistance that allows it to withstand assaults from influences that otherwise seek to weaken or destroy the body.  There is the vital-nervous sheath that builds up both our sense perceptions and our nervous response to outer impacts, as well as habits and desires that drive action in the world.  Greed and fear stem from this desire-being and modify physical attraction and repulsion forces as they occur on the vital level.  Emotional responsiveness has elements of both the vital being and the mental being.  The mental being layers in ideas, conceptual frameworks that are learned through the process of growth and education, and any focus developed as a result of the mind directing itself towards inner awareness and growth, as well as the attempt of the mind to influence the vital and physical aspects of the being.  The conscious mind frequently considers itself to be the primary motive force in our being, and thereby masks the action of the soul as it filters the influence through its own processes and predilections.

What we think of, then, as our unified personality, is actually a compromise action made up of these three aspects of our being, and, to some degree, depending on the status of the soul-evolution of the being, influenced by the psychic being, which works to loosen the bonds of the ego-personality and align us with the higher divine purpose of existence, and, as possible, influence the body-life-mind elements to carry out the soul’s bidding.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “Man is in his self a unique Person, but he is also in his manifestation of self a multiperson; he will never succeed in being master of himself until the Person imposes itself on his multipersonality and governs it: but this can only be imperfectly done by the surface mental will and reason; it can be perfectly done only if he goes within and finds whatever central being is by its predominant influence at the head of all his expression and action.  In inmost truth it is his soul that is this central being, but in outer fact it is often one or other of the part beings in him that rules, and this representative of the soul, this deputy self he can mistake for the inmost soul principle.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pp. 65-66

Soul Action in the Evolution of Body, Life and Mind

Our experience of human life and development, as well as our observation of the natural world, fails, generally,  to provide overt evidence of a soul or soul-action.  Under certain circumstances, however, the action of the soul is revealed or intimated, and as spiritual development takes place, it begins to play a larger and more central role in the understanding, will and actions of the individual undergoing that process.  For some, it occurs as a result of a life and death crisis, for others it comes through intense devotion or a practice of some form of concentration or meditation or yogic discipline, for others still it may come as a result of a vision quest or as the result of an utter distaste for the life of the world and its many sorrows, failures, weaknesses or incomprehensible demands.

The evolution of consciousness develops systematically and the action of the soul as a driver of the process in the individual can take place behind the scenes as the focus initially is on the development of the body, then the vital force, then the mental powers.  Once these are all active, and integrating their action into one another, the time for the next phase of development requires a more visible soul-action.

Sri Aurobindo uses the term “psychic being” which should not be confused with what is called “psychic” in today’s modern terminology.  The psychic being is the soul-entity.  It is not related to fortune-telling or manifestation of some kind of “psychic powers” as understood today.  His use of the term is more precisely to be understood as the soul and psychic-action is soul-action.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine:  “Intimations rise to our surface from the psyche, but our mind does not detect their source; it takes them for its own activities because, before even they come to the surface, they are clothed in mental substance:  thus ignorant of their authority, it follows or does not follow them according to its bent or turn at the moment.  If the mind obeys the urge of the vital ego, then there is little chance of the psychic at all controlling the nature or manifesting in us something of its secret spiritual stuff and native movement; or, if the mind is over-confident to act in its own smaller light, attached to its own judgment, will and action of knowledge, then also the soul will remain veiled and quiescent and wait for the mind’s farther evolution.  For the psychic part within is there to support the natural evolution, and the first natural evolution must be the development of body, life and mind, successively, and these must act each in its own kind or together in their ill-assorted partnership in order to grow and have experience and evolve.  The soul gathers the essence of all our mental, vital and bodily experience and assimilates it for the farther evolution of our existence in Nature; but this action is occult and not obtruded on the surface.  In the early material and vital stages of the evolution of being there is indeed no consciousness of soul; there are psychic activities, but the instrumentation , the form of these activities are vital and physical, — or mental when the mind is active.  For even the mind, so long as it is primitive or is developed but still to external, does not recognise their deeper character.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 65

The Nature and Action of the Soul, the Psychic Being in Man: the First Step of the Transformation of Human Consciousness

The transformation from the human individual confined and limited by the mind-life-body which he inhabits to that of a spiritual being starts with the recognition of the soul, which Sri Aurobindo also calls the “psychic being” which is the actual entity that utilizes the instrumental functions of mind-life-body to undertake its experience, growth and development.  The soul, or psychic being, survives the death of the body and, due to its being a portion of the Divine, it partakes of the knowledge, the power, the bliss and the inherent purity of the Divine, regardless of the weaknesses, limitations or failings of the bodily instruments.

Many people believe that human beings are inherently “sinful”, are born into “original sin” and are separated from God.  In Sri Aurobindo’s view, the soul is forever pure, not bound in “sin” and one with the Divine, regardless of the actions or inaction of the outer being fixated on its own egoistic fulfillment and satisfaction.

This view sets forth the rationale for this first step in the transformation from the mental being inhabiting a living body, to a soul-being utilizing mind, life and body for its own purposes.  The recognition of Oneness with the Divine comes about when the soul finally can come forward and takes it place as the key element in the evolutionary process which is developing in the world.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “At the beginning the soul in Nature, the psychic entity, whose unfolding is the first step towards a spiritual change, is an entirely veiled part of us, although it is that by which we exist and persist as individual beings in Nature.  The other parts of our natural composition are not only mutable but perishable; but the psychic entity in us persists and is fundamentally the same always:  it contains all essential possibilities of our manifestation but is not constituted by them; it is not limited by what it manifests, not contained by the incomplete forms of the manifestation, not tarnished by the imperfections and impurities, the defects and deprivations of the surface being.  It is an ever-pure flame of the divinity in things and nothing that comes to it, nothing that enters into our experience can pollute its purity or extinguish the flame.  This spiritual stuff is immaculate and luminous and, because it is perfectly luminous, it is immediately, intimately, directly aware of truth of being and truth of nature; it is deeply conscious of truth and good and beauty because truth and good and beauty are akin to its own native character, forms of something that is inherent in its own substance.  It is aware also of all that contradicts these things, of all that deviates from its own native character, of falsehood and evil and the ugly and the unseemly; but it does not become these things nor is it touched or changed by these opposites of itself which so powerfully affect its outer instrumentation of mind, life and body.  For the soul, the permanent being in us, puts forth and uses mind, life and body as its instruments, undergoes the envelopment of their conditions, but it is other and greater than its members.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 64