We transcribe and filter impulses and feelings that arise from the physical body and the vital action through our minds, and thus, we generally confuse the awareness or the response that arises through this process as a mental functioning. Sri Aurobindo distinguishes between the physical mind, the vital mind and the mind proper and assigns to the mind proper the roles of logic, intelligent differentiation, reasoning and planning, etc.

The value in separating out these different types of processes into their own unique categories comes when one tries to practice yogic sadhana and thereby begins to try to address the complex and convoluted issues of dealing with and changing human habits, instincts and predilections. It can be seen thereby progress has been made as the mind proper accepts a particular direction and has to work on the vital or physical elements to comply with the new direction; rather than simply feeling like nothing can be done. Similarly, it must be noted that sometimes one believes that changing one’s thoughts is sufficient without the vital or physical nature being similarly altered. The confusion inherent in keeping all these aspects mixed up together makes it much more difficult to distinguish what has actually be accomplished and what more still needs to be done.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The ‘Mind’ in the ordinary use of the word covers indiscriminately the whole consciousness, for man is a mental being and mentalises everything; but in the language of this yoga the words ‘mind’ and ‘mental’ are used to connote specially the part of the nature which has to do with cognition and intelligence, with ideas, with mental or thought perceptions, the reactions of thought to things, with the truly mental movements and formations, mental vision and will, etc., that are part of his intelligence. The vital has to be carefully distinguished from mind, even though it has a mind element transfused into it; the vital is the Life-nature made up of desires, sensations, feelings, passions, energies of action, will of desire, reactions of the desire-soul in man and of all that play of possessive and other related instincts, anger, fear, greed, lust, etc., that belong to this field of the nature. Mind and vital are mixed up on the surface of the consciousness, but they are quite separate forces in themselves and as soon as one gets behind the ordinary surface consciousness one sees them as separate, discovers their distinction and can with the aid of this knowledge analyse their surface mixtures. it is quite possible and even usual during a time shorter or longer, sometimes very long, for the mind to accept the Divine or the yogic ideal while the vital is unconvinced and unsurrendered and goes obstinately on its way of desire, passion and attraction to the ordinary life. Their division or their conflict is the cause of most of the more acute difficulties of the sadhana.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 51-56

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and is author of a daily blog on the subject at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com He is author of 16 books in the field and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. Santosh is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.