There remains considerable confusion about the role of will-power in the development of the spiritual life of the individual. On the one side, the seeker is asked to not give in to the force of vital desire, and the will is often confused with desire. Thus, the idea of acting without desire is also equated with the negation of the use of will-power. On the other side, the seeker is asked to utilize will-power to control desire and, when an excessive force is used, this can lead to suppression and active self-torture, which do not lead to liberation. The middle ground in the use of will-power is to put it under the control of the psychic being and use it to establish a steady movement forward, while understanding the varying needs of the body, life and mind to effectuate real change, over time, without falling for the excesses of either too little, or too much attempt to control as the process unfolds.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The will is a part of the consciousness and ought to be in human beings the chief agent in controlling the activities of the nature. … If there is a constant use of the will, the rest of the being learns however slowly to obey the will and the actions become in conformity with the will and not with the vital impulses and desire. As for the rest (the feelings and desires etc. themselves) if they are not indulged in action or imagination and not supported by the will, if they are merely looked at and rejected when they come, then after some struggle they begin to lose their force and dwindle away. … For transformation to be genuine, the difficulty has to be rejected by all the parts. The Force can only help or enable them to do it, but it cannot replace this necessary action by a summary process. Your mind and inner being must impart their will to the whole. … So long as there is not a constant action of the Force from above or else of a deeper will from within, the mental will is necessary. … To be conscious is the first step towards overcoming — but for the overcoming strength is necessary and also detachment and the will to overcome.”

In terms of the right action of the will, Sri Aurobindo continues: “It is not the right kind of will-power then, probably they use some fighting or effortful will-power instead of the quiet but strong will that calls down the higher consciousness and force.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Using the Will, pp. 7-8

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 16 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.