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

Surface, Subliminal and Psychic consciousness

There are four words in this chapter which are very important: inner, inmost, higher, highest, and these four words have special meanings. When the word inner is used, there is a reference to what is called technically subliminal; and the subliminal has three strata: the inner physical, inner vital, inner mental. These three constitute the inner being and behind these three, there is the inmost and that is the psychic being. When we use the word higher we mean something that is above the mind. Above the mind there is a realm of spiritual experience as distinguished from subliminal and psychic; as you go higher you have the realm of spiritual experience. And then you go to the highest, then you have the Supramental experience.

Normally when we begin to go inward, it is the inner being that we come across—i. e. the inner physical, inner vital, inner mental. These three together are called the subliminal being. Subliminal means that which is behind the threshold, as distinguished from the surface consciousness. Surface consciousness is the consciousness of which we are ordinarily aware—whatever we are aware of by means of senses, eyes and ears and tongue and touch. All that we are aware of by means of senses is the surface consciousness. And when we go behind this surface, when we draw inwards then we become aware of a larger physical being—not that narrow physical being of which we are aware but there is a larger physical being—and we become aware of a larger vital being, and a larger mental being. The matter of which we are aware on the surface is the gross matter but as we go inward we begin to become aware of the subtle matter. And behind it, is the realm of feelings, emotions, attractions, longings, desires, ambitions but as distinguished from the surface desires and surface ambitions, these are larger. Similarly as distinguished from the surface mind in which we are aware of immediate ideas, ordinary ideas, day to day ideas, in the inner mind we are aware of larger ideas, aware of more systematic ideas, more organised ideas. It is the realm of pure ideas.

But these three though larger, they are still subordinate to the inmost. The inmost is the psychic entity. If you try to go deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, you will get the real feeling of the inmost which is that of inherent sweetness, the warmth of sweetness. The very characteristic of the psychic entity is that of inherent sweetness, it does not depend upon any outer circumstances. Whether we are praised or insulted, honoured or dishonoured, whether things are comfortable or uncomfortable, in the psychic consciousness everything is sweet, inherently. It is inherently pure, even if impure ideas or desires touch it, this is not polluted, it is like the lotus leaf on which however much water you may sprinkle, it remains absolutely dry. Similarly with this psychic entity; whatever impurities you may drop on it, it remains extremely pure. Therefore it is also called the fire. The fire is always pure, it purifies other things but you cannot pollute the fire. In fact, the outer fire is only the symbol of the inner fire, of the psychic fire. That is the real fire; the outer fire is only a reflection of it. The psychic entity is even more alive than our life. It is by breathing that we live and breathe is called the life-force and we call ourselves living by virtue of breathing, but the psychic entity is even more alive than breathing, it does not even need breathing for its life. Even through the death of the physical body it remains alive. It is that which is immortal, it is inextinguishable; it is constantly in touch with the Divine. The psychic being is always in touch with the Divine; it does not need to make an effort to get in touch with the Divine. It is always in touch with the Divine, it does not require the proof of the existence of God. It is the mind which requires proof but the psychic entity, since it is constantly in touch with the Divine, is a seat of certainty. And finally it has an inherent knowledge of God's will in it. What God has willed, that knowledge, the soul, the psychic entity has inherently in it. Not only has it the knowledge, it has also the power to manifest it. This therefore is the inmost being in us. In each one of us it is present and because of its presence we can safely speak to anybody of the deeper things, nobler things, and even if the mind does not understand, of God, Divine and so on. The psychic entity understands it and responds to it in spite of our mind.

Purusha-Prakriti, Brahman-Maya, Ishwara-Shakti

Now let us come to the higher. We distinguished between inner and inmost as distinguished from the surface consciousness as inner consciousness and inmost consciousness. Now let us come to the higher consciousness. The higher consciousness, as I said, is above the mind. Above the mind is the Spirit; now the word Spirit indicates three basic experiences of which at one time we have spoken the experience of Brahman, Purusha and Ishwara. All these three words can be subsumed under the word Spirit; whenever the word Spirit is used, basically we mean any one of these three or all the three together.

The minimum experience of the Spirit is that of Purusha. This experience is characterised by the sense of witnessing. When we are able to withdraw from the rush of activity even when the activity is proceeding in us and we are able to watch it, not carried away in the movement, then that watching consciousness, that which watches is Purusha consciousness, is the witness-self and each one of us has this experience of witnessing and this witnessing can be at many levels. At the level at which we are talking, beyond the mind, the witnessing is of the totality of the mind, life, body and everything, i. e. the complete conglomeration of activities put together is on one side and the Purusha consciousness is on the other. When you can witness the totality of your being, totality of your activities, that is the central experience of Purusha. But at lower levels also when you can witness only your body, then that which witnesses body is called the Physical Purusha. When you can watch your vital energies — desires, ambitions, attractions that it is called the Vital Purusha. When you can watch the mental being — ideas, perceptions, thoughts — then it is called the Mental Purusha. When you can watch your own sweetness, it is the Psychic Purusha. When you can watch all this together, it is the central experience of Purusha. So you have Annamaya Purusha: the physical Purusha, the Pranamaya Purusha: the vital Purusha, the Manomaya Purusha: the mental Purusha, Chaitya Purusha: Psychic Purusha; and Purusba, that which is the witness of all this. It is only when you have risen very high in your witnessing consciousness, when you can see that your body is not yours, your life-movement is not yours, your mind is not yours, then this Purusha is recognised as an impersonal perceiver not identified with anyone of them and therefore quite free from all this. That is why Purusha consciousness is supposed to be a consciousness of freedom. It is also called the state of moksha, when you can really be in that state that anything that happens in the body, life and mind fails to make any effect upon your being and you find yourself independent of all the rest. That is the minimum of what we call the spiritual experience.

At a higher level you have the Brahman experience. It is also called the Atman experience. The words Brahman and Atman are interchangeable, although many people make a distinction between Atman and Brahman to indicate that Atman is individual and Brahman is universal, or above universal, but this is a confusion. The individual is called the Jivatman, not Atman. When only the word Atman or Brahman is used, the characteristic of this experience is that not only you are above all the movement — which is the case in the Purusha consciousness — but you also find that all movement proceeds from you. In the Purusha experience you find yourself separated from the movement. This experience of separation continues in Brahman experience but there is an added realisation that whatever is moving out, whatever is the activity, all that, moves from the Brahman. This movement is a movement of Brahman. In the case of Purusha experience, the movement is separated from Purusha and the link between the two is not known, that is the deficiency of that experience. In the Brahman experience you realise that all movement proceeds from the Brahman or from the Atman. In English the word Brahman or Atman is translated as the Self. Not Individual Self but as the Self, meaning thereby that it is the Self of everything, Self of all. It is the Self of all because all proceeds from the Self. Therefore it is called Atman. This Self is realised to be only one, there are no two selves or three selves in the world or anywhere, there is only one Self, one without the second, ekamevadvitiyam, one without the second. In the Purusha experience you find yourself separated from Prakriti, from movement and you do not find yourself spread out in Prakriti. In Brahman experience you find everywhere the same Self. Self in all, all in Self, and beyond all. Self in all, all in Self and Self above all. These are the three formulae of this experience. That is Brahman experience.

At a still higher level you have the experience of Ishwara in which you find that all activities not only proceed from you, from the Brahman but they can be controlled, they can be regulated, they can be mastered, they can be manipulated, they can be perfected, so that the substance which was earlier experienced as Purusha, which was later experienced as the Brahman is now experienced as the controller, as the creator and you find everything completely under the control of that substance.

These three experiences are basically the experiences of the Spirit, therefore they are called spiritual experiences as distinguished from the psychic experience of which I spoke earlier. These experiences are all obtained when you go above the mind. Along with these three experiences you have corresponding three experiences. Corresponding to Purusha experience you have the experience of Prakriti, that is to say you experience Prakriti as different from Purusha. This experience of the distinction between Purusha and Prakriti is a part of the Purusha experience. Corresponding to the experience of Atman or Brahman from where all movement proceeds, is the experience of Maya. The movement that proceeds from Brahman or Atman is called in technical terms Maya. So the experience of Brahman and Maya, the experience of Atman and Maya is the second level of spiritual experience. At the third level of experience where all that moves out is experienced to be under the control, under the mastery of the substance which you call the experience of Ishwara, is conjoined with the experience of Shakti; Ishwara and Shakti.

Subconscious, Unconscious or Inconscient

So you have three experiences: Purusha-Prakriti, Brahman-Maya, Ishwara-Shakti. To make the word "spiritual" more complete, we may say that spiritual experience consists of the experience of Purusha-Prakriti, Brahman-Maya and Ishwara-Shakti.

All kinds of experiences that you can get in this realm are all called spiritual experiences and there are many experiences of this kind. There are in these experiences, those of universality in which you become very wide; experiences of infinity, experience of eternity, experience of covering the entire space, entire time and even experience of the spaceless and timeless, of going beyond space and time. You have then the experience of great peace, particularly in the Purusha consciousness and Brahman consciousness. You have the experience of a great clarity and light; experience of a great power, particularly in the experience of Ishwara-Shakti, you find a huge current of energy flowing out from you under the complete control of your being; experience of what is called in the Vedanta, in the Upanishads, the experience of Satchidananda. Purusha is normally experienced only as Sat, only as being, but Brahman is experienced as Satchidananda. But still in the Brahman, there is a greater emphasis upon Sat, upon peace and silence. Chit and Ananda also are experienced but they are, as it were involved in the experience of peace. When you come to Ishwara then all the three, Satchidananda, are experienced in their fullness, when you experience all the three together, then that is called the experience of Purushottama. These three are higher experiences; the experience of Purushottama is the highest experience. The highest Purushottama has the highest Shakti manifest in it. That highest Shakti manifest is called Supermind; so the word Supermind is also a word which indicates the highest.

When we use the word normal being, then we mean our ordinary surface consciousness of body, life and mind, or something that is behind the surface of which we are aware. As compared to the inner and inmost, and higher and highest, our normal being may also be called the lower being. That which is normal to us from the point of view of these realms, is the lower being but there are still lower than lower realms, the subconscious and the unconscious or inconscient. There is a being in us of which we are hardly conscious, we were conscious of it yesterday but today we have forgotten. It is subconscious to us today. If pressure is given, you can recall it but at the moment, it is not in your surface consciousness. There are certain things which are going on in our body which require some kind of conscious triggering but of which we are not aware. A wound is inflicted on my skin and there is a triggering of the consciousness to my brain which somehow tells the brain that a wound has occurred—I am not aware of it as this triggering takes place—as a result of which the nervous system comes into operation and the white blood corpuscles begin to flow in a greater quantity towards the place where there is a wound, which will try to heal the wound as soon as possible. Unless there is a triggering of the brain this won't happen and triggering of the brain won't take place unless there is some kind of a conscious signal to it. All this takes place but we are not aware of it, it is subconscious. And below the subconscious there is complete unconsciousness. Subconscious is compared to a somnambulist, one who wakes up in sleep, prepares a cup of tea, drinks the cup of tea and next morning when he awakens he does not remember anything of the kind at all. Even while he is preparing the tea he is not aware that he is preparing tea and he drinks tea, but he is not aware that he is drinking tea but he does everything very carefully, then goes to sleep and next morning he has no trace of it at all in his consciousness. These are the phenomena of somnambulism which have been noted and recorded and some people have the habits of this kind. The subconscious is like a somnambulist; this somnambulist is on the verge of waking but does not wake. That is the special kind of description of a somnambulist. If you suddenly touch and wake up this somnambulist, he will himself be surprised to find himself near the stove preparing the tea, he was not aware of it. But the unconscious is not even on the verge of waking, it is really in deep slumber and there is no sign of any stir of waking and yet it does many activities of consciousness. It is a state of deep sleep of consciousness and the lowest we might say is this unconscious or inconscient. This is the geography of our entire being you might say.

Geography of the Spirit

The inmost being that is the psychic being; then the spiritual the higher; that is Purusha-Prakriti, Brahman-Maya, Ishwara-Shakti, the highest Purushottama: Supermind. In this geography of the spirit there are three more details to be filled up. When we have experience of Purusha-Prakriti, Prakriti is experienced as separate from Purusha, and Prakriti is seen to be characterised by three Gunas: sattwa, rajas and tamas, or it is characterised by three instruments: body, life and mind. When Brahman-Maya experience is obtained then Maya and all the movement is found to be proceeding from the Brahman, and that which proceeds is largely experienced as consisting of sattwa, rajas, tamas, body, life and mind. But not merely that there is found to be in this Maya the origin of sattwa, rajas and tamas, something more than sattwa, rajas, and tamas, something divine in character, not merely sattwa, rajas and tamas, not merely body, life and mind but something more than that. It may also be called the divine Maya. When we come to Ishwara-Shakti, then this Shakti is experienced not only as sattwa, rajas and tamas, body, life and mind, not only as something divine but much more clearly as consisting of higher degrees of mental consciousness, something which is not confined merely to sattwa, rajas and tamas. Certain greater domains of Shakti become manifest, we begin to approach what may be called Para Prakriti. Sri Krishna says, in the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita: "I have two natures, Apara Prakriti and Para Prakriti, I have lower nature which consists of the three Gunas but I have also the higher nature". This higher nature begins to become more and more manifest. In the realm of Shaktis there are innumerable powers which are not confined to the narrowness of sattwa, rajas and tamas of the body, life and mind. There are higher degrees of powers, energies, effectivities which are to be found. Sri Aurobindo distinguishes four of these levels of powers: Higher Mind, Illumined Mind, Intuitive mind and Overmind. Each one has a specific kind of capacity and power not confined to the limits of mind, of the ordinary mind of which we are aware. And when we come to experience Purushottama —Supermind, then this Shakti reveals its topmost power of the Supermind, which is above the Overmind. Supermind is Shakti but not overmental, it is supramental Shakti, There is a distinction between the Overmind and Supermind, we shall have some chance of looking at this later on, at the moment we only see that there is a distinction between Overmind and Supermind. This is one important element which I wanted to fill in, in this picture of the totality of our existence.

There is another detail. This is a detail which becomes more manifest when we experience Ishwara-Shakti. This does not become manifest when we have the mere experience of Purusha or Brahman, it becomes manifest when we have Ishwara-Shakti experience. This is the experience of Jivatman. In Purusha consciousness you are not aware of Jivatman as a child of God, even when in Purusha consciousness you know yourself as individual, you recognise yourself only as an individual witness of Prakriti but not as a child or portion of the Divine, Supreme Divine, Ishwara or Shakti. In Brahman-Maya, there is only the experience of the Self which is All and All that is Self and the Self that is above All. There is no experience of the Jivatman, of the individual self. But when you experience the Ishwara-Shakti you have this deeper perception, you discover that what you call yourself is actually something quite different from the body, life and mind, something quite different from what you call yourself as ego. You find yourself to be finite but not egoistic. There is a difference between the Jivatman which is finite and individual, and the ego which is also finite and individual. The ego is a finite which regards itself to be independent of everything. It regards itself to be self-existent, although it is not so. Because it is not so and yet it regards itself, we call it a false ego consciousness. All ego consciousness is a false consciousness because although it believes it is independent of everything, it is not independent of everything. In the case of Jivatman, it is a finite which knows itself to be completely dependent upon Ishwara and Shakti, not independent but completely dependent. That is why when you realise the Jivatman, the egoistic consciousness which was false is destroyed, it cannot survive. Every mistake when it is recognised as a mistake is cancelled out. This is the nature of every mistake. The moment you recognise a mistake as a mistake, it is annulled, it cannot remain there. So the moment the individual recognises that it is not independent, it is not self existent, but it is entirely dependent upon Ishwara-Shakti and it knows itself, it realises itself to be the child of the Divine father and the Divine mother, when this recognition comes then egoism is destroyed. A continuous dependence upon Ishwara-Shakti is a constant experience of Jivatman.


When you recognise this you may also recognise that the psychic entity which we call the inmost being was always a delegate of Jivatman.

It is a further new-revelation that you get that this psychic entity is a delegate of the Jivatman who was constantly accompanying the body, life and mind and working on the body, life and mind. This psychic entity is only working on behalf of the Jivatman.

You also discover that it was this psychic entity which was caught in Prakriti, in body life and mind, sattwa, rajas and tamas, and now it is released from this captivity. This experience of release from captivity is called a spiritual experience. In the Veda there is a description of it as a bird which was caught in a big cage and then the cage is broken, and the bird flies out of it, spreading out its wings. A falcon, a huge falcon, springs out of the cage breaking all the bars of the prison of the cage and soars above. This experience is also a spiritual experience, one of the most important experiences that we as individuals can have, not only the experience of Ishwara and Shakti but the experience of ourselves as now liberated from the prison of body, life and mind. That which was caught in mortality — body, life and mind is mortal — that is now liberated and realises it is immortal, and ever immortal. It was always immortal, not that it has now become immortal, it was always immortal but it was not recognised by itself to be immortal because it was caught in captivity. This is the second detail of this geography of our existence. There is a third detail, the last of this series, and this is the detail regarding what we call the process of transformation. So far in my whole description I have not used the word transformation deliberately because I wanted to speak of it at the end. In this entire field of existence a certain process is at work, a certain process in which Purushottama and Supermind are at work and they are at work on what is all below: Ishwara-Shakti, Brahman-Maya, Purusha-Prakriti, inmost being, inner being, surface being, normal being, lower being, lowest being, inconscient. A certain process is going on. You might say, all the time as it were, from the Supermind, from the Purushottama there is a constant outpouring of rains on all that is below. It's a huge energy which is flowing all the time downwards. But we are so far from all these highest levels that we hardly experience this outpouring which is going on all the time, just as in the night we know that there are so many stars which are bigger than our suns, our own sun is only one star and we know that there are many, many such suns even bigger than this sun, but they are hardly visible at night, many are visible but many are not visible at all because they are so far off, their light does not reach here at all. Similarly from the topmost level of Purushottama and Supermind there is a constant bombardment as it were, constant pouring of the rain but which is not visible to us, not experienced by us at all. That raining is going on all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. That is not experienced by us because of a very important element in us, of which we have spoken earlier, and that is because we are exclusively concentrated upon our small little being, exclusively concentrated. This exclusive concentration of ourselves upon our own being, our little being is so exclusive and so dense, it is called the thick veil, it is a very thick veil, a huge thick veil and that is why we are not aware of what is happening, what is pouring from above and because of that reason in our small little field we go on rotating round and round and round and what we call problems of our life are nothing but the result of this going round and round and round. You resolve one problem, another problem arises, you resolve that, a third one arises; it is a constant round of problems. In the first place we do not even know that there are problems. A child does not recognise the existence of problems, he suffers problems but he is not self-aware that they are problems. In many ways we are children so we are also not aware of our real problems. It is only when there is some very intense problem that we recognise it to be a problem, otherwise we take our humdrum life as a part of nature and quite normal. At a certain stage of life we begin to become aware of problems and then we immediately start making ways of solution without even raising the question whether we can really solve the problems or not. Solutions we find are always half solutions because we are not at all searching out a real solution. Whatever is easily available we manipulate and use and we feel it is resolved for the time being until another problem again comes up. Only in a certain state of crisis or in a state of great self awareness, we begin to feel that something radical has to be done; a real solution has to be found. It is then that we try some major operations of breaking this veil.

Process of Yoga

The entire operation of breaking the veil is called the process of yoga. The veil is not only thick but multiple. It is not as if there is only one veil which we just cut asunder and you are out of it. It is multiple; it has many layers of this thickness. It is multi sided and that is the reason why you have to have a multi sided process of yoga. This multi sided process of yoga consists first of three processes: purification, concentration and enrichment. Wherever we find impurity we have to purify ourselves. All impurities are mixtures, obscurities, overlapping of one principle over the other in a confusion. These are the basic impurities. So these impurities are to be purified.

Then there is a process of concentration in which we concentrate on wherever we find a thick veil and the veil is torn. This is the secret process of tearing the veil. Wherever you experience a veil, you concentrate upon it and by the force of concentration the veil tears. This was the great discovery made by the Vedic rishis. If you want to tear the veil, how do you tear it,—by the method of concentration.

And thirdly there is a process of enrichment. Our capacities today are limited, small, so these capacities are to be sharpened, chiselled, augmented, brightened, perfected. So with every capacity that we have, this is the process to be done. These are the three processes,—details of course are many—but these are the three basic processes.

In every system of yoga if you analyse ultimately, whether it is Hatha yoga or Raja yoga, or Bhakti yoga or Karma yoga or Jnana yoga, the three basic processes you will find in all of them are these three: purification, concentration, enrichment. Ultimately what happens by these three processes is an experience of liberation. We feel liberated from limitations, liberated from this veil. The first experience of every process of yoga, is the experience of some kind of liberation. The highest of this liberation comes up when you have a liberation from the sense of egoism. And then one of the major experiences of liberation is the experience of the bird swinging out of the cage, soaring into the vast sky of freedom. But at all other levels there are some kinds of small liberations. Secondly you find an experience of some kind of ascension, you feel as if you are ascending from a lower level to the higher level, or you find yourself going from the surface to the inner level, and to the inmost level. You also find a process of descent, you may rise up to a certain level and the powers of the level you have reached are brought down into the lower levels.

I have learnt mentally that goodwill is the most important thing in our life. When somebody tells you that goodwill is the most important thing, it is a mental idea you have gained—then you try to apply goodwill in every activity of your life. This is an action of descent, you have attained a certain knowledge that goodwill is important and then you translate it in every activity. You translate it in the first place in your activities of friendship; goodwill towards friends is much easier. Goodwill towards neighbours whom you know or even you do not know is a more difficult task. So you descend into those activities and then you translate goodwill towards enemies, a much more difficult task. You translate it at lower and lower levels and transform yourself. This is only one example but for every higher idea or a higher consciousness there is this process of descending. You bring it down lower and lower, so there is a constant process of ascent and descent. Or you also bring out from within, when you go inward, it is not exactly the process of descent but a process of bringing out from within, when you go inward. Then the powers which are within are brought out. When you go higher than the powers which are above are brought down. So bringing out and bringing down, these are the two other processes. When you go inwards into the psychic being you can experience the powers of the psychic being, the sweetness of the psychic being, the fire of the psychic being, the purity of the psychic being, and allow your mind, life and body to be drenched by this purity, by this light by this sweetness. You can let body, life and mind be drenched to such an extent that each and every corner of the body, life and mind is full of the psychic waters. Everywhere there is sweetness in nature, every vibration is sweetness, every vibration is luminous, every vibration is of goodwill, everything is turned to the truth, everything is turned to beauty. When this is done, it is first a process of change and then a process of conversion and then a process of transformation.