Western psychology has investigated the impact of subtle forms of bias on what and how we perceive things, and how we interpret what we perceive. An individual’s cognitive bias subtly influences what he believes has occurred, and various people, witnessing the same event, but coming from different viewpoints, will report out what happened differently, in line with the cognitive filter they have applied.

When one is working with occult realms and subtle inner experiences, this same type of filtering and cognitive bias process occurs and thus, the science of yoga recognises the nead to reduce, minimize and eventually eliminate these filters in order to understand and act upon the truth of things.

It must also be noted that vital desire and mental predilection can extrapolate from a set of facts or events and create an interpretation or a vision of what is to come that is not an actual spiritual insight, but a mental formation.

An interesting story about the intersection of vision and mentality is seen in Sri Aurobindo’s own life. He was a fervent worker to achieve the independence of India from the British Empire. At a certain point in time, he received an Adesh to take up spiritual practices. He was asked on several occasions about why he suddenly gave up working for India’s independence. His reply was, in essence, that India’s independence was assured, and he had now moved on to other necessary realms of action. Additionally, many people in India wanted to side with Germany in World War II as it was opposing the British Raj, which had been strangling India for hundreds of years. Sri Aurobindo noted that the future fate of the evolutionary progress of humanity hung in the balance and he had to support the British in that situation, but that after the war was concluded, India would be liberated from British control. His vision of course came true. The mental formations of others were found to be inaccurate, and were based on emotional, vital or mental biases caused by the way India had been treated by the British.

The Mother writes: “But when one wants to have a pure, correct information, to be in contact with the truth of things, and see in advance — not according to one’s petty mental construction, but how things are decreed, in the place where they are decreed and the time when they are decreed — then that requires a very great mental purity, a very great vital equilibrium, an absence of desire, of preference. One must never want anything to be of one kind or another, for this falsifies your vision immediately.”

“All who have visions usually deform them, all, almost without exception. I don’t think there is one in a million who doesn’t deform his vision, because the minute it touches the brain it touches the domain of preferences, desires, attachments, and this indeed is enough to give a colouring, a special look to what you have seen. Even if you have seen correctly, you translate it wrongly in your consciousness. This truly asks for a great perfection. But you can have perfection without the gift of vision. And the perfection can be as great without the gift as with it. If it interests you specially, you can make an effort to obtain it. But only if it interests you specially. If you lay great store by knowing certain things, you can undertake a discipline; you may undertake a discipline also in order to change the functioning of your senses. I think I have already explained to you how one can hear at a distance, see at a distance, even physically; but this means considerable effort, which perhaps is not always in proportion to the result, because these are side issues, not the central, the most important thing. These are side issues which may be interesting, but in itself this is not the spiritual life; one may have a spiritual life without this. Now, the two together can give you perhaps a greater capacity. But for this too you must tell yourself, ‘If I ought to have it — if I take the true attitude of surrender to the Divine and of complete consecration — if I ought to have it I shall have it. As, if I ought to have the gift of speech, I shall have it.’ And in fact, if one is truly surrendered, in the true way and totally, at every minute one is what he ought to be and does what he ought to do and knows what he ought to know. This… but naturally, for this one should have overcome the petty limitations of the ego, and this does not happen overnight. But it can happen.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VII Growth of Consciousness, Inner Experiences, pp. 130-132

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky 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.