Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, The Triple Transformation - Session I

Body, life, mind and soul

Each one of us is given three instruments, the body, life and mind. And each one of these three instruments has its natural activities. For example the body has instincts, which are untaught, they are there. I get hungry whether I am taught to feel hungry or not. It is a natural instinct, untaught. And it is because of that instinct that I am preserved. I feel hungry, I eat and I maintain myself physically. These are ordinary activities of maintaining ourselves physically. Then there are instincts of which you are not even aware, for example instincts by which you can digest your food. We simply eat and digestion which is a long process takes place automatically. And now modern science has found out hundreds of activities of this kind going on in our body which are automatic activities of which we are not aware at all, but they are constantly taking place.

Similarly there are other activities of life in as, which are called the vital activities. The vital part in us provides the basic force of breathing. The breath of life we call life. The real life in us is that which causes the breathing that also takes place automatically, it is unlearned. We are not taught how to breathe, it is going on automatically. But apart from this basic activity of breath of life there are numerous desires which constantly arise in us automatically, the spontaneous likes and dislikes. Even a small child right from the beginning begins to like and dislike certain things automatically. At a certain other stage there are attractions and repulsions, these also happen automatically. At a still higher level there are longings which arise, longstanding longings. We feel that there is a longing for somebody, longing for some kind of a victory, some kind of an ambition to be first or to rise to the highest position. There are various kinds of longings which arise automatically, and they are very powerful. Human beings are as it were swayed by them.

Mind also has its own automatic activities. The basic activity of the mind is sensation. Smell, touch, sight, hearing are automatic functions of the mental activity in our body. Then there are perceptions and image-formation. When I see an object, then even if I am withdrawn from that object I can recall that object, by means of an image of that object. Then I am able to connect a word with an image and I am able to think with the words. All these activities are quite normal activities of our mind. At a higher level I begin to conceive in the mind. Conception is a higher activity of the mind, and this also at a certain stage is automatic. The higher development of concepts takes a lot of effort but certain concepts are quite easy and they take place automatically.

These three elements are in us, but behind these three elements, there is something else in us of which we are hardly aware but which is the real instrument of experience, it is that which is permanent in us and that is what is normally called soul. There is a soul in us.

Questions & Answers—What is experience?

Question: What is the meaning of experience?

Now of this we shall talk a little more later on, but for the moment in answer to this question I would only say that the soul in us is in interaction with the body, life and mind. It is this interaction which really is the meaning of experience. At one stage, in one of my talks I have spoken of the soul to be equivalent to, analogically, an architect. The soul is like an architect. Just as an architect designs a beautiful building, even so the soul has a capacity of designing the interconnection of body, life and mind. The soul is also like a mason, not only an architect but also like a mason because after designing, the engineer or the mason comes in and he really designs, actually concretises it. The soul has been given a kind of a mission. As an architect is given the mission to design a house, a mason is given a kind of a mission to concretise the design, similarly the soul has been given the mission that it has to design a beautiful structure of the body, life and mind and their interrelationship.

Each one has a special kind of a design to create and that is the specific task for each one. You and I are different in this sense that although both of us are designers, the way in which we shall design and the kind of design that we shall make in regard to the body, life and mind will be different in each case. You will design body, life and mind according to one perception; I will design my body, life and mind according to another perception. Each one of us is required to have a specific kind of design, you might say. And then having made the design or while making the design, it goes on also building it, building according to that design. While doing this the body, life and mind react to the soul and very often the reactions are of resistance. The body, life and mind do not normally abide by the design that is being conceived by the soul. Each one goes its own way, as it were. He doesn't care for the design. It is the soul which is constantly striving to see that the body, life and mind react in such a manner that the real design is effected and the real concretisation of the design is effected, this being the task of the soul.

How much resistance is there? How much is the collaboration? And the manner by which this collaboration can be brought about so that ultimately body, life and mind do exactly as the soul decides, this task is the task of the soul. Whatever is involved in this is the real experience, all else is secondary. All else may be an aid but that is not essential. In order that body, life and mind can ultimately fall in line with the design that is being designed by the soul, it is not necessary that you should be a very learned person. It is not necessary to be a very powerful person, in the sense of acquiring a lot of properties and becoming a captain or becoming a major chief or something of the kind. That may be necessary but it is not indispensable. In each case it may be different, but the value of all this even if one becomes very learned, the value of that learning is only as to how far it aids the soul in convincing the mind, life and body to fall in the design of the soul, that is the important thing. So, whether I memorise ten books or twenty books, or I do not memorise at all, provided that I can effectuate the consent of the body, life and mind to fall in line with the soul's design, that alone matters. And when I speak of experience, it is this experience by which the soul shall be able to convince the body, life and mind so as to obtain their collaboration. Then they will do according to the decisions of the soul.

In the case of rebirth of which we were talking, what I have said was this, that what is important in the growth of the soul from body to body is not the carrying of the memory of the past birth but to carry forward the experience of the past birth and to utilise that experience in the next birth. And since the experience is not definitely connected with the memory of all the events, but really this quintessence of how far somebody has consented or not, so those experiences, those events in life, which have been central to the attainment of the consent of the body, life and mind to the design of the soul are carried by the soul into the next birth, that is all that is important and that the soul carries always. Other memories may be there, may not be there, it is not so important. So that is what I meant when I spoke of memory and experience.

Questions & Answers—Goodwill.

Question: And do we drop off other experiences also which are not helpful in evolution?

Yes. There are so many experiences which are going on. But the essential experience is only this, the art and science by which you are able to effect the consent of the body, life and mind to fall in line with the design of the soul, that is the real experience. It is by that that you grow really. The growth of the individual lies in this. That is why we said that what is important is self control and self knowledge; these two things are regarded to be very important in the growth. To achieve self control means how far the body, life and mind can be controlled so that they do not go haywire according to their own desires and the soul is able to effectuate its own will upon the body, life and mind. If you can learn this art, if this is done, then that is the most important thing.

Question: That means that the unconscious is that level of which we are not aware?

Unconscious has two meanings here. Unconscious may be subconscious or may be even superconscious, about both of which you are unconscious.

Question: Does the unconscious have a past, present and future?

Yes, therefore I spoke of two levels. It consists of the subconscious and the superconscious. Memories of the past are all thrown down into the subconscious but there is another knowledge of which you speak just now, which inwardly knows what exactly is to be drawn out.

Question: When we take to any austerity or self control, does it mean that inherently something in us knows that the purpose of our life is evolution?

Yes, you might say there is an inherent knowledge within us of which we are not aware, therefore we call it unconscious. There is an inherent knowledge in us that the most important thing for us is the experience of self control, self-mastery and as a result of which you know what is the self itself. So, that is why what is important is not the memory of so many details of things but this experience of how you control the body, life and mind. In the example of Valmiki, it is this experience that he got by means of which he could liberate himself from all the anxiety about the family and about the kind of activities he was engaged in. There was a realisation which enabled him to overcome the attachments in which he was engrossed and he became free from them and he began to pursue what he felt was the right thing to do.

Question: What is self-knowledge?

Now self knowledge is a threefold knowledge: the knowledge of the soul which is growing all the time through birth after birth, second is the knowledge of that of which this soul is the delegate of and which is called in Indian terminology Jivatman, and third is the Supreme Self which is at once universal and transcendental. The knowledge of the transcendental and universal self is self-knowledge. The knowledge of the Jivatman, which is a portion of this transcendent universal self, is the second self-knowledge. And third is the delegate of this Jivatman which is in our body and which grows. This is the soul of which I spoke just now. The knowledge of the soul and its nature is also self-knowledge. So self-knowledge is triple Knowledge: the knowledge of the soul, the knowledge of the individual self or the Jivatman, and the knowledge of the supreme self, what is called Brahman or Atman in our Indian psychology.

Atman, Jivatman, and Chaitya Purusha, are the three aspects of the self of which we speak of, when we speak of self-knowledge.

Actually, your questions are very directly relevant to what we are going to discuss now because in fact I was going to start my talk with this description of—what Sri Aurobindo calls—the psychological ignorance and the constitutional ignorance. These are the two ignorances out of the sevenfold ignorance according to Sri Aurobindo. If you count our ignorance completely, the total picture of our ignorance is a sevenfold ignorance. That we shall take up later on but the two of these elements which are directly relevant to our present purpose is what is called psychological ignorance and constitutional ignorance.

Psychological and Constitutional Ignorance.

Psychological ignorance is the ignorance of the total psychology of our being. We are ignorant of the subconscient which is in us. There is a huge ocean of the subconscient in us of which we are ignorant. We are ignorant of our body excepting a little of which we know, but we are largely unaware of our entire body. We are unaware of our vital, of our mind and of the soul in us. And we are unaware of the superconscient that which is above the soul. This unawareness constitutes our psychological ignorance.

The constitutional ignorance consists of our ignorance of the interrelationship of these. We do not know the relationship between body and life, the relationship between life and mind, between mind and body, between mind and life, between soul and mind, between soul and body, between soul and life, the entire constitutional hierarchy. Some people believe that what is most important is the body. If you provide for the bodily needs then everything is done. This is because we feel that the body is the most important; so constitutionally we think the body is the sovereign. Some people believe that life is the sovereign and that the body should be capable of fulfilling the desires that man has got and so they use the body as an instrument, as a horse and life as the rider of the horse, as it were, and the horse must act according to the needs of the rider. They believe that the life force is the leader. Some people believe that the mind is the leader. In the Taittiriya Upanishad there is a description of the mind, manomaya purusha prana sharirah neta, ‘prana sharirah neta’, this is the term which is used in the Taittiriya Upanishad, that mind, manomaya purusha, is the leader of the prana of the life, of the vital and sharirah, of the body. And those who live in the mind, the thinkers, scientists, inventors, designers, planners, always believe that the mind is the sovereign, and that body and life must subserve the mind. But very few or hardly anybody really knows that there is behind the mind something else, the soul, of which the body, life and mind are the instruments. Some people, even when they come to become aware of the soul, they do not know that the soul is the master, is the sovereign and body, life and mind are its instruments.

The constitutional ignorance is not knowing the real relationship, the real leader among the body, life and mind and the soul. So, the ignorance of the interrelationship of body, life, mind and soul is our constitutional ignorance. And then above the soul is the Jivatman, and above that is the real master, the sovereign Lord himself, isha vasyam. The supreme Lord himself is the master of the whole thing. This entire relationship we are unaware of. Because of our psychological ignorance and because of our constitutional ignorance we are helpless in this whole battle of life. We are just moved basically by instinctive movements, by the impulses of life, by the compulsion of circumstances, by various kinds of events which occur and we react to them. Certain influences we gather and some guidance we receive from one corner or the other "pell-mell". In a disorderly fashion we create somehow some order out of this disorder and this we call our normal life.

So the basic thing that has to be done first and foremost is to develop our body, life and mind of which we are normally aware, in such a way that we begin to become aware of the soul of which we are not normally aware.

The first step is to become aware of that which we are not normally aware. So to some extent, the development of body, life and mind is absolutely essential before you can enter into the awareness of the soul. Actually the soul itself allows the body, life and mind to develop to some extent and voluntarily remains hidden, does not even show its presence. It is a very wise designer or architect you might say. It does not even show its presence until body, life and mind are developed to some extent, but when they are developed to some extent, then one begins to feel the presence of something that is different from body, life and mind. Very often we may have some experiences of the soul's presence but we may not recognise it as something distinct from body, life and mind. To become aware of the distinct experiences of the soul one has to have repeated experiences of the soul and one must know how to recognise the difference between the mental idea and the soul experience.

Actually we thought of doing this subject because of the question which was raised last time: how do we know that we are progressing? The real thing in us which really recognises, is the soul. It is the soul which recognises whether we are progressing or not. And that was the reason why I took up this subject as a whole which is a much larger subject, but I thought it was a good link because unless we uncover the soul, we do not get the right guidance as to whether we are progressing at all and if we are progressing in the right direction or not. He is the architect who knows whether the construction is going on according to the design or not.

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 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 are 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 clusters 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 there 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 the 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 of, but it also admits 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 the 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?

Soul Knowledge—Infinity, Eternity, Universality

The first indication of the soul is the experience of the inner flame. That is why the Veda speaks of agni, this inner flame. Most of us do not experience it at all, therefore we do not distinguish between mental, vital and anything called the soul or the psychic, but there are moments when we do experience an inner flame burning. There are two kinds of flames in us and they should be distinguished from each other because the one flame belongs to the vital and the other flame belongs to the soul. At the vital level many of us have experienced the flame. Overpowering desire is also a flame. Overpowering desire to get the object of love is also a flame. One burns as if it were in love, vital love, and so we might say it is a red flame. When it does not get it, it gets angry, frustrated. The mark of this flame is that it is constantly seeking to possess from outside, the object is outside and it wants to devour that object and possess it. This flame, many people experience, if not all. Many people who live purely on a physical plane, who are domestic in character want to preserve their ordinary routine of life. They do not experience this deep flame of the heart. But this is quite common actually; at a certain stage of life people do experience this kind of a flame. Some people have not a flame for love but the flame for power, they are consumed by the desire for power or desire for wealth but these are all vital flames. And many people call this psychic flame by mistake. This is not the correct thing. The flame of the vital is like a volcano whereas the psychic flame is very quiet in its nature, it burns steadily. It is a flame that is burdened with wisdom. As I said he is like an architect, who knows what is to be done, what is to be designed. And the object of the psychic flame is primarily to nourish truth, beauty and goodness. Truth, beauty and goodness are its primary movements. Whenever there is a true situation where truth, beauty and goodness manifest, there is an inner joy, and all of us experience it one way or the other. You see a remarkably beautiful picture and the response that you give is of pure admiration without the desire to possess for yourselves. You just admire it. In the vital admiration there is a desire to possess, but in the soul admiration, you admire for the sake of admiration, you just enjoy it.

Question: Totally unselfish?

Yes, unselfish. You really feel "how wonderful". When you see a sunset and admire it, you do not say "I must have a sunset in my body", you just admire it: "It is so beautiful". Not that everybody admires a sunset because everybody is not so sensitive; the soul is not so much in the forefront. Somebody has done a heroic action for example and you feel extremely happy and admire that heroism that also is a soul reaction. What you call hero-worship, if it is a true hero-worship, it is psychic in character, it is not vital in character. If you have read some of the stories of Sharad Chandra Chattopadhyay for example, you will find in many of the female characters particularly, a great deal of soul experience; the self-giving, just for the sake of self-giving. Somebody serves somebody else not because one expects that it will be returned in one way or the other but just out of admiration one goes on serving, whatever the result, does not care at all. It is a pure psychic movement, there is no calculation. The impulse to protect somebody who needs protection which requires a lot of courage and one puts oneself in the midst of fire for protecting somebody else, that also is a sign that there is a soul which is active. It is quite different from the vital, physical and mental; all these elements are quite poor as compared to this capacity of the soul.

These are the preliminary experiences of the soul, which are only on the surface. Then there are the deeper experiences of the soul. Search of knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a deeper soul movement. It is true that even the mind has this tendency to seek knowledge for its own sake, but behind the mind's movement of knowledge for its own sake is always the soul element. Normally the mind seeks utilitarian knowledge, practical knowledge, pragmatic knowledge and only at very high levels, it begins to seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge. And this is very logical, due to the fact that the soul is behind this mind and the time comes when the mind gets fatigued in its search and still there is a movement of that pursuit of knowledge and then you can really distinguish between the mental knowledge and the psychic knowledge, the search of the psychic for the knowledge.

When can you really distinguish between the two kinds of knowledge? For example when you come to that border line of the knowledge of silence, the mind cannot pursue that knowledge; even if it wants to pursue, the mind cannot experience Silence, Infinity and Eternity. So pursuit of the knowledge of Eternity, Infinity, of All, of Universality, pursuit of the experience of these, is a pure movement of the soul.