Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, The Triple Transformation - Track 105

Differentiation between body, life, mind and soul.

Question:  How do you distinguish this and the soul?

 This is a very interesting issue actually. Let us concentrate on this question. There is a difference between life and mind. That there is a difference between body and life is more easily known. The body is what we see very physically, and vital of the life is that which consists of desires, impulses, ambitions, various kinds of longings, attractions, repulsions. There is a marked difference between the body and the life, which is very easily discernible. But the difference between life and mind is not so easily discernible because we do not use a terminology sufficiently clear to understand this difference. For example when I desire something it may be equated with mental desire, attractions may be called mental attractions. So there is an intermixture between life and mind and we do not very much distinguish between the two.  To make a clear distinction between the two, we must say that the power of conception is distinctly mental. The vital cannot conceive, the vital can desire, can feel, can sympathise, can be moved by longings, but it does not conceive does not have the power of conception.

What is the power of conception? How do we know that this is called conception? Conceptions are of three levels. A conception of things is the lowest level of conception. The second level of conception is conception of conception. What you are now doing, the activity in which you are involved is really of the second level because we are trying to ask what is conception. So conception of conception is the middle level. And the third is the highest level of conception where we reach a point where we say "this is beyond conception". We strain to conceive something and when we say "it is beyond that effort", however much we try to conceive, we cannot conceive at all.

 Conceptions of things are very easy, a table, a chair, a museum, a building, various kinds of physical objects is seen by us and we have concepts of them. We have images of them, images of words attached to them and these words and images help us in conceiving these things, although the conception is not equal to word, it is not equal to image, it is still subtler than that but we build up concepts by the help of images and words.

In the second level, we have several cluster of ideas of which we become aware, and I will now mention some of those ideas and as soon as they are mentioned you will recognise them. The idea of the Universal; none of us have seen the Universal physically. When we speak of universal actually there is nothing corresponding to it and no images there. At the most you have an image of the sky touching the horizon at the earth point, some kind of image of that kind in which everything is included, but surely that is not universal because we know that as you go near the horizon, again the horizon expands. The Universal is something still greater than that, it is not something which is enclosed, it is something much vaster. The concept of Universal is the second degree of concept, second level of conceiving. When I try to conceive the Universal and think about Universal, I am engaged in the second level of activity of the concept.

Then is the concept of Essence. This is a word we use very often but you will see that you have never physically seen Essence. When you say "what is the Essence of the matter or what is essentially true" you have a general idea of essence in the sense that as soon as you grasp the essence, everything becomes clear with regard to that object. This much we know but essence as such, we have no physical experience of it and yet we understand it.  The understanding of an idea without any base in the physical is the real concept, is the real mental idea. That is how the mind is different from anything else.

Mind is truly mind when it can conceive concepts without any physical base; that is the essentiality of the mind. Infinity is another concept. Once again like Universal, Infinity also, nobody has seen. Eternity is another idea, another concept like the concept of All. All is a concept in which you can say that there is a physical image to some extent, in the sense that if I have seen the totality of these objects which are before me, I can say "all these pieces", so there is some physical image of it, but if I say "all the objects of the universe", it is only a concept because I have never seen all the objects of the universe put together at one stroke or one stretch. Take for example the concept: all cats. You all understand the meaning of all cats, it is not as if you do not understand but you have never seen all the cats, there is no physical experience of all cats and yet you understand the meaning of all cats. How do you understand the meaning of all cats? It is by the power of mental conception. The mental concept of All is understood directly by the mind without real physical experience. This is the second level of the mind or of mental activity.

The third is that which goes beyond conception, which is also mental activity but it is that activity in which the mind confesses that "I have reached my ultimate vigour and my ultimate strength, I am at my wit's end when I come to that realm". For example the concept of the transcendent; the concept of All is still conceivable but that which transcends All... There is a faint concept of it but really, it is announced by our mind to be ineffable. Ineffable means inexpressible, what I cannot express at all. Total silence is a concept that my mind to some extent can conceive, but it admits also that what really total silence means I cannot express. That is why the Upanishads say, "Mind and words return from that silence". The mind has reached its ultimate height beyond which it cannot grasp.

I can distinguish between desire and concept of which we spoke just now and by this distinction we can say that this is mental and this is vital. I can distinguish because of these experiences of my desires on the one hand and my concepts on the other and I can say "all that belongs to desires is vital; all that belongs to concept is mental". But now by what means shall I find out how all this is distinguishable from the psychic or the soul?