As human beings live primarily in the external consciousness on the surface of the being, their experience of existence is centred around and focused on the body, life-force and mind. They do not generally see nor recognise the true soul deep behind the surface, and they see the coming and going of the life-force in and out of the physical body as the basis of existence. When the vital force departs, they see the body die and disintegrate. This identification with the life-force leads them to accept the desires of the vital being as the motive force for most all of their actions and reactions. The vital being therefore becomes for most people, the focus and source of their meaning in life, and thus, they are fixated on what Sri Aurobindo calls the ‘desire-soul’.

As the evolutionary process continues and the being matures, he begins to reflect more deeply on the meaning of existence and his true significance in the creation, and thus begins a process of stepping back from the surface nature. This leads to the individual getting in touch with the true soul and its link to the divine purpose in the creation.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The soul and the life are two quite different powers. The soul is a spark of the Divine Spirit which supports the individual nature; mind, life, body are the instruments for the manifestation of the nature. In most men the soul is hidden and covered over by the action of the external nature; they mistake the vital being for the soul, because it is the vital which animates and moves the body. But this vital being is a thing made up of desires and executive forces, good and bad; it is the desire-soul, not the true thing. It is when the true soul (psyche) comes forward and begins first to influence and then govern the actions of the instrumental nature that man begins to overcome vital desire and grow towards a divine nature.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 2, Planes and Parts of the Being, pg. 91

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 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.