Analysis of Mental, Vital and Physical Consciousness in the Human Being30
Sri Aurobindo has provided detailed analysis of the complexity of our nature, subconscient, conscient, intraconscient or subliminal and superconscient; but we may first present a brief analysis of three important parts of our ordinary nature, namely, the mental, vital and the physical. Sri Aurobindo speaks of three parts of the mind, — thinking Mind, dynamic Mind and externalizing Mind. The vital is divided into three parts, the emotional vital, the central vital and the lower vital. The physical refers to the material or physical consciousness or corporeal consciousness and to the physical body.
The thinking Mind is concerned with ideas and knowledge in their own right. It reasons and perceives with ideas of infinity, eternity, unity, identity and self-contradiction. It considers and finds out the value of things. The dynamic Mind is concerned with the putting out of mental forces for realization of the idea. The externalizing Mind is concerned with the expression of ideas and knowledge and mental forces in life, not only by speech, but by any form it can give.
The emotional vital is the seat of various feelings, such as love, joy, sorrow, hatred and the rest. The central vital is the seat of the stronger vital longings and reactions, such as ambition, pride, fear, love of fame, attractions and repulsions,
desires and passions of various kinds and the field of many vital energies. The lower vital is occupied with small desires and feelings, such as food desire, sexual desire, small likings and disliking, vanity, quarrels, love of praise, anger at blame, little wishes of all kind — and a numberless host of other things.
The physical consciousness is mechanical and repetitive in character, and it is limited to the purely bodily needs, and it is this consciousness which insists on the mind to seek the evidence of physical senses and the physical sense-organs. The purely bodily consciousness is largely subconscious, unconscious and even inconscient.
These three, the mental, the vital and the physical, are interrelated in the complexity of our being. As a result, there is in us what Sri Aurobindo calls the mental-vital (vital mind), mental-physical (physical mind), vital-mental, vital-physical and physical-vital; all these distinctions are necessary because the aim of total transformation implies detailed working in every nook and corner of our nature so that the psychic consciousness, spiritual consciousness and the supramental consciousness can effectuate, gradually and systematically, by the power of contagion, their influence and their descent in all parts of the being right up to the inconscient. The integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo aims at perfect integration and perfection and integral transformation so that ultimately the mental, the vital and the physical can all be transformed by the supra- mental consciousness.
The mental-vital, which is also called the vital mind, is the mind which is at the service of vital desires and vital emotions. It is a sort of mediator between vital emotion, desire, impulsion, etc, and the mental proper. It expresses the desires,
feelings, emotions, passions, ambitions, possessive and active tendencies of the vital and throws them into mental forms. Finding arguments in support of vital movements (such as rationalization of all kinds) is also an activity of the mental- vital or the vital mind. Other activities include pure imaginations or dreams of greatness, happiness, etc, in which human beings indulge very often. The mental-vital (which is the same as the vital mind), plans or dreams or imagines what can be done. It makes formations for the future which the will can try to carry out if opportunities and circumstances become favourable or even it can work to make them favourable. In men and women of action this faculty is prominent and a leader of their nature; they always have it in a very high degree. At a lower stage of the mental-vital, the vital passions, impulses and desires rise up and get into the pure Thought and either cloud it or distort it. The mental-vital should be distinguished from the dynamic Mind. While the mental-vital is limited by the vital view and feelings of things, the dynamic Mind is not, for it acts by idea and reason.
The emotional vital and the central vital are sometimes taken together and referred to as the higher vital, in contrast to the lower vital which is concerned with the bottom movements of action and desire and stretches down into the vital-physical. The vital-physical is the vital at the service of the physical. It is the nervous being, and it governs all the small daily reactions to outward things. It governs also reactions of the nerves and the body consciousness and reflects emotions and sensations; it motivates much of the ordinary actions of the human being and joins with the lower parts of the vital proper in producing lust, jealousy, anger, violence, etc. In its lowest parts, where it can be called vital-material, it is the agent of passion, physical illness, etc.
The physical-vital supports the life of more external activities and all physical sensations, hungers, cravings, satisfactions. It is full of desires and greed and seeking for pleasure on the physical plane.
The vital-physical is below the mental-physical, but above the material. However, they interpenetrate each other. The body-energy is a manifestation of material forces supported by vital-physical energy which is the vital energy precipitated into matter and conditioned by it.
Mental-Physical and Material Mind (Mind of the Cells)31
The mental-physical (which is the same as the physical Mind) is a mind at the service of the physical. It is the mind conditioned by the physical, and it is fixed on physical objects and happenings; it sees and understands these only and deals with them according to their own nature, but with difficulty responds to the higher forces. Left to itself, it is skeptical of the supra-physical things, of which it has no direct experience and to which it can find no clue. To enlighten the physical mind by the psychic consciousness and the consciousness of the higher spiritual and supramental planes is one of the important objects of the integral Yoga, just as to enlighten it by the power of the higher vital and higher mental elements of the being is the greatest part of human self-development, civilization and culture.
The gross material part has also a consciousness of its own, the consciousness proper to the limbs, cells, tissues, glands and the organs. To make this consciousness luminous and directly instrumental to the higher planes and to the divine movement is what is meant in Sri Aurobindo's yoga making
the body conscious, — that is to say, fall of a true, awakened and responsive awareness instead of its own obscure, limited subconscience.
The subconscient is below the level of mind and conscious life, inferior and obscure and covers the purely physical and vital elements of our constituent bodily being, unmentalised and unobserved by the mind, uncontrolled by it in their action. It can be said to include the corporeal mind, the mind or dumb occult consciousness, dynamic but not sensed by us, which operates in the cells and nerves and all the corporeal stuff and adjusts their life-processes and automatic responses. The mind of the cells is distinguishable from the mental-physical (which is the same as the physical mind). The mental-physical is the mind at the service of the physical, whereas the mind of the cells is the consciousness working in the cells themselves. It is something like the submerged sense-mind which is highly operative in animal and plant life but is also obscurely at work below our conscious nature.
According to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the great discovery which has been made in their yoga is that of the cellular consciousness or of the mind of the cells, and they have pointed out that it is only when that obscure mentality which covers and operates in the cells is penetrated by the supramental consciousness, and it is only when supramental consciousness is made operative directly in the cells of the body that the supramental transformation can become accomplished. For, according to them, it is only in the cellular consciousness that the supermind can become fixed and permanently established on account of the fact that the pure cell, liberated from the coating of the different layers of the mind, can receive securely and permanently the operation of the supramental consciousness. How this discovery was made
and what were the stages of this discovery and the consequences of this discovery are to be found in the form of a detailed account of the Mother's experimental research, narrated by the Mother herself in the thirteen volumes of Mother's Agenda.32
How to deal with the Sub-conscious and the Inconscience?
But this entire operation of the supramental transformation has to be preceded by the plunge of the supramental consciousness into the subconscient. But, according to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, a plunge into the subconscient when we are not yet sufficiently ready is unsafe, and would not help us to explore this region, for this would lead us into incoherence, sleep or dull-trance or comatose torpor. In this connection, Sri Aurobindo has brought out in some of his letters the inadvisability of recourse to psychoanalysis, which aims at dealing with the subconscient without developing the right and comprehensive knowledge of consciousness and the conditions under which one can plunge into the subconscient for purposes of its transformation.
According to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, our first concern must be with all that we are conscious of, and it is only when there has been a good deal of harmonization of our conscious being by the power of our psychic consciousness and an ascent to high levels of consciousness in the superconscient that it becomes easier and safer to deal with the subconscient. The higher we rise, the greater the capacity we acquire to deal with the lower. The lower and the higher have correspondences and the highest superconscient and the
lowest inconscient are in a sense nearest to each other. The lowest inconscient can effectively be dealt with and transformed only by the highest powers of the supramental superconscient.
In the evolutionary process, as explained by Sri Aurobindo, the Inconscience seems to be the beginning of the upward movement towards the emergence of the subconscient, the conscient and the superconscient, but the subconscient, the conscient and the superconscient emerge out of the inconscient because they are already involved in it. Evolution is in essence a heightening of the force of consciousness in the manifest being so that it may be raised into greater intensity of what is still unmanifest. In this evolutionary process, our conscious being stands as middle term. As noted earlier, our consciousness is normally unaware of all that is subconscient and unconscious of all that is superconscient. It is conscious only of certain operations of the physical, the vital and the mental, and even of them only of their outer overt activities and manifestations. For behind our conscious physical, vital and mental operations, there is, according to Sri Aurobindo, a deeper and inner consciousness which is subliminal, but it is sometimes called the subconsciousness, because, as already stated, it is behind the threshold of our outer consciousness, and of this subliminal consciousness we are normally unconscious.
We have already seen to some extent the nature of the domain of subliminal consciousness. It includes the large action of the inner mind, inner intelligence and inner sense mind, of an inner vital, and of an inner subtle physical being. Our subliminal being is not, like our surface being, an
outcome of the energy of the Inconscient. It is a meeting-place of the consciousness that emerges from below by evolution and the consciousness that is radiating from the typal worlds. There is here a consciousness which has a power of direct contact with the universal, unlike the mostly indirect contacts which our surface being maintains with the universe through the sense-mind and the senses.
As Sri Aurobindo explains: "There are here inner senses, a subliminal sight, touch, hearing; but these subtle senses are rather channels of the inner being's direct consciousness of things than its informants: the subliminal is not dependent on its senses for its knowledge, they only give a form to its direct experience of objects; they do not, so much as in waking mind, convey forms of objects for the mind's documentation or as the starting-point or basis for an indirect constructive experience. The subliminal has the right of entry into the mental and vital and subtle-physical planes of the universal consciousness, it is not confined to the material plane and the physical world; it possesses means of communication with the worlds of being which the descent towards involution created in its passage and with all corresponding planes or worlds that may have arisen or been constructed to serve the purpose of the re-ascent from Inconscience to Superconscience. It is into this large realm of interior existence that our mind and vital being retire when they withdraw from the surface activities whether by sleep or inward-drawn concentration or by the inner plunge of trance."33
According to Sri Aurobindo, the intelligence of the subliminal being preserves the accurate form and relation of all its perceptions and memories and can grasp immediately their significance. And its perceptions are not confined to the scanty learning of the physical senses but extend far beyond
as telepathic phenomena of many kinds bear witness; it has a subtle sense the limits of which are too wide to be easily fixed. The relations between the surface-will or impulse and the subliminal urge have not been properly studied except in regard to unusual and unorganised manifestations and in regard to certain morbidly abnormal phenomena of the diseased human mind. But if we pursue our observation far beyond, we shall find, as Sri Aurobindo points out, that cognition and will or impulsive force of the inner being really stands behind the whole conscious becoming; the latter represents only part of its secret endeavour and achievement which arises successfully to the surface of our lives. To know our inner being is, according to Sri Aurobindo, the first step towards a real self-knowledge.
"There is indeed an inner sense in the subliminal nature, and a subtle sense of vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste ... This inner-sense can create or present images, and scenes, sounds that are symbolic rather than actual or that represent possibilities in formation, suggestions, thoughts, ideas, intentions of other beings, image-forms also of powers of potentialities in universal Nature ... It is the subliminal in reality and not the outer mind that possesses the powers of telepathy, clairvoyance, second sight and other supernormal faculties ..."
"But more important is power of the subliminal to enter into a direct contact of consciousness with other consciousness or with objects, to act without other instrumentation, by an essential sense inherent in its own substance, by a direct mental vision, by a direct feeling of things, even by a close envelopment and intimate penetration and a return with the contents of what is enveloped or penetrated, by a direct intimation or impact on the substance
of mind itself, not through outward signs or figures, — a revealing intimation or a self-communicating impact of thoughts, feelings, forces."
As Sri Aurobindo explains:
"It is by these means that the inner being achieves an immediate, intimate and accurate spontaneous knowledge of persons, of objects, of the occult and to us intangible energies of world-Nature that surround us and impinge upon our own personality, physicality, mind-force and life-force."34
A still farther power of the subliminal is seen in the changes which take effect in our dealings with the impersonal forces of the world that surround us. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:
"The inner being not only contacts directly and concretely the immediate motive and movement of these universal forces and feels the results of their present action, but it can to a certain extent forecast or see ahead their farther action; there is a greater power in our subliminal parts to overcome the time barrier, to have the sense or feel the vibration of coming events, of distant happenings, even to look into the future."35
It must, however, be noted that although the subliminal consciousness opens out to us wider vistas of knowledge and actions, much surer and much more intimate than our external physical, vital and mental consciousness, still the subliminal consciousness is centered on multiplicity and divisions and not on unity, which is the characteristic of what can spiritually be called true Knowledge. As in our external consciousness, so also in subliminal consciousness, knowledge is a mixture of knowledge and ignorance, and it is capable of erroneous as well as true perception. It may also be noted that the
knowledge proper to the subliminal being is not complete. According to Sri Aurobindo, knowledge, in order to be true and complete must be a knowledge by identity and must arrive at oneness and unity in diversity. Therefore, a deeper and higher consciousness is needed to cure the deficiencies and mixtures of ignorance and knowledge that we obtain at the level of subliminal consciousness.