Most people, embedded in the physical body and its consciousness, find it difficult, if not impossible, to accept or validate the reality of the out of body experience. At the same time, there are countless anecdotes of people who have an out of body experience, or the related ‘near death experience.’ The descriptions by those who have these experiences are remarkably similar, despite coming from a diverse cross-section of humanity and occurring among people who in many cases have no preconception of the possibility of such an experience. Such an account was related by the famous actress Shirley Maclaine in her book (and film of the same name) Out on a Limb. She was unprepared for the experience, was skeptical, but nevertheless, she was able to depart the physical frame with her vital being, view her physical body waiting and was able to fly off into other places and situations in her vital sheath, leaving the body behind.

People who have out of body experiences relate being able to look down upon their physical body and view its circumstances. In many cases they identify a silver cord that seems to attach their consciousness to the physical body and occult practitioners mention that this cord is the bond between the vital being and the physical body, and that care must be taken to not let it snap, as that would prevent the vital being from reentering the physical frame.

Near death experiences relate the movement of the awareness out of the body, generally towards a brilliant light, leaving the physical body behind. At a certain point, the consciousness moves back into the physical body and what was supposedly a ‘clinical death’ is suddenly reversed and the person revives. Dannion Brinkley in his book Saved by the Light recounts his own experience of clinical death, the traveling of the vital being and his conscious awareness outside the body, and, after receiving guidance, his return to life in the physical body, with a new understanding and mission in his life.

These are illustrative examples, yet there are numerous people who have had similar experiences. In many cases this occurs involuntarily and without the conscious control of the individual; however, there are individuals who indicate that through practices they implement, they can leave the body more or less at will and travel through other planes and worlds.

The physical body, which provides something of a protection from the powers at work on the vital planes, is left behind, and in many cases the individual appears either dead or in some kind of deep trance. This implies that the active consciousness with which one identifies has moved with the vital being out of the physical body, at least temporarily, yet has remained intact with the ego-sense holding the vital form together. The vital worlds, however, harbour forces and beings that, when acting directly in their own native sphere of action can be extremely powerful. This can lead to either an extraordinary sense of upliftment or in some cases a rising of fear or terror in the being when confronted with forces, divine and undivine, of such power.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “When the vital being goes out [of the body], it moves on the vital plane and in the vital consciousness and, even if it is aware of physical scenes and things, it is not with a physical vision. It is possible for one who has trained his faculties to enter into touch with physical things although he is moving about in the vital body, to see and sense them accurately, even to act on them and physically move them. But the ordinary sadhak who has no knowledge or organised experience or training in these things cannot do it. He must understand that the vital plane is different from the physical and that things that happen there are not physical happenings, though, if they are of the right kind and properly understood and used, they may have a meaning and value for the earth life. But also the vital consciousness is full of false formations and many confusions and it is not safe to move among them without knowledge and without a direct protection and guidance.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Exteriorisation, pp. 199-200

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.