In the Taittiriya Upanishad, the seeker discovers, through intensive tapasya that there are multiple layers, or sheaths, of consciousness that make up the human being. His seeking first discovers the material body, or ‘food sheath’. As he continues he recognises the vital body, or ‘prana sheath’. Next he learns about the mind, or ‘mental sheath’. He continues to discover the ‘causal sheath’ and eventually the ‘bliss sheath’. Each one was successively more subtle than the prior one, and each one was more directly capable of causing the actions of the being. These sheaths correspond generally to the chakras and their receptivity to energies and forces that are active in the manifestation generally. Thus, we are greatly moved in our thoughts, feelings, actions and responses by these larger forces which remain, however, largely unnoticed by us as they enter through the subtle bodies corresponding to each of these sheaths, and we only become aware of them when they are active within us and we are attending to them.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo describes the ‘sevenfold ignorance’ within which we exist. We are not aware of the environmental consciousness, as well as superconscient, subconscient and even what we may call the inconscient levels of our existence. We treat the things that we can perceive with our external senses as what is ‘real’ and fail to recognise the reality of all the other elements that make up our existence and our relation to the larger universal manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “… why then are we not normally aware of so much that is behind us and always pressing upon us? For the same reason that we are not aware of the inner life of our neighbour,although it exists as much as our own and is constantly exercising an occult influence upon us, — for a great part of our thoughts and feelings come into us from outside, from our fellow-men, both from individuals and from the collective mind of humanity; and for the same reason that we are not aware of the greater part of our own being which is subconscient or subliminal to our waking mind and is always influencing and in an occult manner determining our surface existence. It is because we use, normally, only our corporeal senses and live almost wholly in the body and the physical vitality and the physical mind, and it is not directly through these that the life-world enters into relations with us. That is done through other sheaths of our being, — so they are termed in the Upanishads, — other bodies, as they are called in a later terminology, the mental sheath or subtle body in which our true mental being lives and the life sheath or vital body which is more closely connected with the physical or food-sheath and forms with it the gross body of our complex existence. These possess powers, senses, capacities which are always secretly acting in us, are connected with and impinge upon our physical organs and the plexuses of our physical life and mentality. By self-development we can become aware of them, possess our life in them, get through them into conscious relation with the life-world and other worlds and use them also for a more subtle experience and more intimate knowledge of the truths, facts and happenings of even the material world itself. We can by this self-development live more or less fully on the planes of our existence other than the material which is now all in all to us.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 1, Our Manifold Being, pp. 9-10

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.