If we reflect for a moment on the shift from one evolutionary principle of consciousness to another, we can see a shift of standpoint as well as a difference in the mechanism of operation. Those beings who are primarily based in the vital nature tend to react based on principles of fear and greed, desire, and avoidance without substantial planning or mental ideation taking place. A shift from the mental standpoint to that of the spiritual standpoint is what we would expect if there is a full manifestation of the spiritual powers of consciousness. This process, however, is not something that tends to take place permanently all at once. There is an interim stage where there are openings, glimpses, insights, but the basic principle of consciousness remains rooted in the mental process. The mind gains a certain amount of reflected light and power, but nevertheless remains the mind. There are also openings where either the consciousness rises to a new level for some period of time, an experience, or some temporary status before falling back into the mental view; or where insights, intuitions, new brilliant ideas penetrate into the mind from above, giving the individual certain new forms of understanding and action, but nevertheless based in mental action to translate the light into suitable mental forms.

If we start from the higher realms of spiritual vision, insight, knowledge and power, we can see that those who approach those realms invariably refer to them as having a brilliance of light that they cannot face directly. The Isha Upanishad refers to the “face of truth” being covered by a “brilliant golden lid”. The intervening steps represent something of a “step down transformer” that allows the seeker to gain some experience of these higher forces within the limitations of what he can absorb and assimilate. Thus, one can see a being who has a “brilliant” mind, someone who gets intuitive insights, who may have visions that represent progress in a certain direction, but who then work out the understanding and expression in mental terms.

The first step above the normal mental power is called the “higher mind” by Sri Aurobindo. He has distinguished various steps by their characteristics and their ability to operate either through the mind, or in some way go beyond the mind to a new form of consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “I mean by the Higher Mind a first plane of spiritual consciousness where one becomes constantly and closely aware of the Self, the One everywhere and knows and sees things habitually with that awareness; but it is still very much on the mind level although highly spiritual in its essential substance; and its instrumentation is through an elevated thought-power and comprehensive mental sight — not illumined by any of the intenser upper lights but as if in a large strong and clear daylight. It acts as an intermediate state between the Truth-Light above and the human mind; communicating the higher knowledge in a form that the Mind intensified, broadened, made spiritually supple, can receive without being blinded or dazzled by a Truth beyond it.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Introduction, Sri Aurobindo on Our Many Selves, Planes and Parts of the Being, pg. xxviii

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.