There is a passage in the Upanishads, relevant to the discussion of rebirth and karma, which raised a question in the mind of one of the students of Sri Aurobindo’s text Rebirth and Karma. The Upanishad refers to “mind, leader of the life and body”. The student wonders how the mental being can take on this central role when it is part of the manifested lower nature of body, life and mind.
Sri Aurobindo clarified that the Upanishad referred to the “manomaya purusha” and not mind in the sense of the instrumentation of nature we commonly consider to be “mind”. There is a distinction of the concepts of “purusha” and “prakriti“. The first is the witness consciousness, not acting but providing support and sanction. The second is nature, which acts. In this case, the Upanishad is referring to the purusha. It specifically is referring to human beings as essentially being led by their characteristic as mental beings; while animals, for instance, would be led by their characteristic as life beings, in Upanishadic terms “pranamaya purusha“.
The Taittiriya Upanishad in the Brahmananda Valli goes through an extensive review of the issue, as it successively refers to a series of ever more subtle inner selves that inform and control the more external forms. There is a self of matter, which is then informed by a self of vital energy. This in turn is informed by a self of mind. The sequence continues beyond that inner self of mind. The issue here, however is not related to the matter, life energy or mind that makes up the instrumental being in nature, but an essential inner self that provides the basic “way of being” or characteristic of the being controlled by that “self”.
Sri Aurobindo discusses this issue: “It is described as manomaya by the Upanishads because the psychic being is behind the veil and man being the mental being in the life and body lives in his mind and not in his psychic, so to him the manomaya purusha is the leader of the life and body,–of the psychic behind supporting the whole he is not aware or dimly aware in his best moments.”
He goes on to explain that the manomaya purusha guides the human nature (prakriti) consisting of the instrumental mind, life and body. Similarly in the animal world, it would be the pranamaya purusha (the essential consciousness of the vital life energy) that would be the leader or guide for the animal nature consisting of instrumental life and body.
It is this level of subtlety and detail that has made a complete understanding of the processes and significance of Karma so mysterious and difficult to follow throughout mankind’s attempts to get an overview of it.
Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Appendix 2, Question and Answer: A Clarification, pp. 160-161, <a href=”http://www.lotuspress.com/item.php?item=990117″ title=”Rebirth and Karma”>http://www.lotuspress.com/item.php?item=990117</a>