We frequently try to judge the character of an individual based on physical characteristics. While it is true that there is an interaction and influence between the body, the life-force and the mind, for most people these are not at all absolute or determinative. There are well-known instances where someone is born with a massive, powerful body, and we assume he uses his physical strength to gain some type of power or ascendancy in the life he leads; and yet, we may find that the soul contained within this powerful physical frame is one of extreme kindness and gentleness. Some say that the physical form is an illustration of the inner soul, yet we also frequently find that there are people who are physically extremely attractive who turn out to be cruel, manipulative, even sadistic in nature! If we look at the question from a deeper level we can see that while there may be some influence, the physical body, the life-force, the emotional being, the mental structure and the psychic soul element each follow the trajectory of their own aspect or level and come together within the physical form, not as a unified whole carrying out one pre-determined end, but as a disparate number of elements which need to find out how to accommodate and work with one another.

It is of course possible, although rare, that a soul can take conscious birth from one life to the next, and even undertake to form major elements of the body, life and mind complex that will be most useful for the incarnation into which he is going to enter. Indeed, circumstances such as the culture, family, etc. may even be taken into account for such an evolved being.

For most people, however, the joining of forces is more haphazard, as the individual acquires genetic material for the physical frame from the mechanism set up for the physical through the mixing of the dna of the parents and the carryforward of traits, dominant or recessive, that they may bring with them. The vital development may very much depend on the circumstances in the early life and education, the family environment, and the societal framework within which the individual grows. The mind does not necessarily follow the pattern set by the physical and the vital aspects, and may find itself greatly at odds with the circumstances of the body or the life-energy. The soul may accept certain circumstances as opportunities for its growth, to meet and overcome certain challenges, and to position itself in such a way that it continues its path toward eventual liberation and mastery over the physical being.

Each of the aspects may of course exercise a potentially powerful influence that modifies the native predilection of that part of the being. So someone with a powerful mind, taking birth in a weak physical body, perhaps one that is subject to a terrible debilitating disease, may find its opportunity for develop and expression limited, or cut short.

It is also true that the physical body’s characteristics may work to hinder the free development of the higher elements of the nature, thereby stunting to some, or even a great, degree, the opportunities for the being in that lifetime. We have evidenced this in the suppression of people, based purely on the shade of their skin, or their gender, which has limited their opportunities for free expression, higher education, and opportunities for advancement. Powerful minds, powerful emotional and vital forces, aesthetic and artistic capabilities are thereby set back by the milieu of the society within which they are born and the unique prejudices active in that time and place. The individuals may still show their native capacities of mind, heart and nobility of character, but the scope for such expression may be limited or lead to various forms of torture, suffering or even death.

We cannot therefore make any straight line assertions about the physical body’s characteristics and the development and formation of character, as the Mother points out in response to a direct question by a disciple:

A disciple asks: ‘Mother, does a person’s body-formation express his character?’

The Mother responds: “No. Even the character itself is not a simple affair, that is, the character of a person is not the expression of his true being but the result of many things. For example, atavism may be expressed, that is, what comes from the father, the mother, from both together which may have a different result; from what has gone before them — the past history, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, etc.; and then from the environment in which people have lived when they were very young and had no independence at all. That has a considerable effect on the character. And this character affects the physical formation. So, just by seeing somebody one cannot quite say what his true nature is. One may describe his tendencies, know his difficulties, his possibilities, but it is only with the growth of the consciousness and as the development becomes voluntary and organised that the body can begin to express the true character of the person.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 6, Some Answers and Explanations, pg. 149

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 19 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.