From a superficial perspective it is virtually impossible to understand the development of consciousness from Matter to Life, and from Life to Mind, and beyond. We now recognize that our beliefs and actions are conditioned by factors unseen and essentially unknown to us. C. G. Jung described the “collective unconscious” where many factors, not obvious to our conscious minds, lead us to act and react to situations, people and circumstances, including desires, tendencies, and impulsions of various sorts.

Sri Aurobindo takes the study of the occult interactions to a much more detailed level. He notes that contrary to the Western approach to things, creation comes from the higher, subtler planes and influences and modifies those that are lower and denser. Nothing can be created in the material world that has not been initiated and inserted here by the higher planes and worlds. The material plane conditions the result through its native characteristics and limitations so there is a complex interaction between the higher force and the lower material upon which it is set to work. The result is something other than the purest form of either one.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “If we regard the gradation of worlds or planes as a whole, we see them as a great connected complex movement; the higher precipitate their influences on the lower, the lower react to the higher and develop or manifest in themselves within their own formula something that corresponds to the superior power and its action. The material world has evolved life in obedience to a pressure from the mental plane. It is now trying to evolve supermind in obedience to a pressure from the supramental plane. In more detail, particular forces, movements, powers, beings of a higher world can throw themselves on the lower to establish appropriate and corresponding forms which will connect them with the material domain and, as it were, reproduce or project their action here. And each thing created here has, supporting it, subtler envelopes or forms of itself which make it subsist and connect it with forces acting from above. Man, for instance, has, besides his gross physical body, subtler sheaths or bodies by which he lives behind the veil in direct connection with supraphysical planes of consciousness and can be influenced by their powers, movements and beings. What takes place in life has always behind it pre-existent movements and forms in the occult vital planes; what takes place in mind presupposes pre-existent movements and forms in the occult mental planes. That is an aspect of things which becomes more and more evident, insistent and important, the more we progress in a dynamic yoga.”

“But all this must not be taken in too rigid and mechanical a sense. It is an immense plastic movement full of the play of possibilities and must be seized by a flexible and subtle tact or sense in the seeing consciousness. It cannot be reduced to a too rigorous logical or mathematical formula.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 46-48

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and is author of a daily blog post on this subject at He is author of 16 books of Readings in Sri Aurobindo's major writings and is editor in chief at Lotus Press. He is also President of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.