Modern-day Western psychological researchers are finding that certain portions of the brain are related to higher cognitive functions, logic, reasoning, extrapolation, imagination, projection, analysis and classification while some parts are in charge of the purely mechanical control of things like bodily functions, some are repositories of memory, some are receptors of impulses from the various senses, some control motor functions and other parts are involved in language capabilities, artistic ability, music ability, etc. In other words, the brain main carry out multiple different functions in different areas, and yet, these are not all truly functions which we would call ‘mental’. The use of MRI and other measuring and testing tools available today allows scientists to see how various different segments of the brain react to various types of stimuli or functionality.

All of this is part of a new, greater understanding that Western psychology is developing. It brings them to the type of knowledge already developed by yoga science through the ages, and refined, organised, developed and codified by Sri Aurobindo as he explores yogic psychology.

Dr. Dalal observes: “There are three main parts in the outer or surface being: the mind (the mental), the life-nature (the vital) and the body (the physical). Each part has its own distinct type of consciousness, though in our ordinary awareness we are unable to distinguish among the mental, vital and physical constituents of our consciousness, and tend to regard all these diverse elements simply as our ‘mind’. But in yoga psychology, ‘mind’ refers specifically to the part of the being ‘which has to do with cognition and intelligence, with ideas, with mental or thought perceptions, the reactions of thought to things, with the truly mental movements and formations.’ [Sri Aurobindo] The vital being or life-nature is made up of desires, feelings, instincts and impulses. The life-energy which animates the body (Prana) is an aspect of the vital. The body too has its own distinct consciousness which operates in the involuntary functionings of the various bodily organs and physiological systems. Body-consciousness is only part of the physical consciousness. The latter includes also the physical mind and the physical vital which will be presently explained.”

“Though separate and distinct, the three main divisions of the outer being just mentioned are interconnected and interact on one another, giving rise to distinguishable subdivisions in the main parts of the being. Thus besides the thinking mind (the mind proper), there is a vital mind, which is the part of the mind that is intermixed with the vital. The vital mind, unlike the thinking mind, is not governed by reason but is dominated by impulses and desires of the vital, and seeks to justify and rationalise actions which are based on impulses and desires of the vital. Another subdivision is the physical mind, which is the part of the mind that is intermixed with the physical, and partakes of the characteristics of the physical consciousness such as inertia, obscurity and mechanical repetitiveness which manifest in the physical mind as mental torpor and conservatism, doubt, and obsessive thoughts. The part of the mind which is closest to the physical is called the mechanical mind; its characteristic is that of a machine that goes on turning round and round whenever thoughts occur in it. Another subdivision which is important for self-understanding is the physical vital; it is the part of the vital which is turned entirely upon physical things, and is full of desires and seekings for pleasure on the physical plane. Closely connected with it is the vital physical, the part of the vital force which constitutes the nervous being; it is the vehicle of the nervous responses and is related to the reactions, desires and sensations of the body.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Introduction, Sri Aurobindo on Our Many Selves, Planes and Parts of the Being, pp. xxi-xxiii

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.