The life-force represents the next evolutionary stage beyond physical Matter. It transforms material energy and channels it for development of perception, feeling, and interaction. It prepares the way for the advent of the subsequent evolutionary phase of the manifestation of Mind. When it first emerges its focus is on survival and growth primarily. Higher motivations, ideals, concepts, await the appearance of the mind. The vital force is clearly an instrumental force, not a causative one. In the absence of clear direction, it simply reaches out to grow, avoid pain and obtain nourishment. Its functioning is therefore dependent on the use to which it is put.

The vital force is essential for human beings to interact with the material world. A strong life-force provides the power to act upon the world and the power to develop the next evolutionary phases to their fullest potential. The issue for the spiritual seeker, then, is not to destroy or suppress the vital force in and of itself, but to determine how to go about making it a fit and effective instrument of action under the guidance of the intelligent will, and later, through the direction of the spiritual purpose of life.

Sri Aurobindo distinguishes between the vital under the control of what he calls the desire soul, the artificial ego-formation that puts itself at the center of everything, seeking enjoyment, exercise of power, and under the impulse of greed, fear and lust; and the true soul which recognises the oneness and inter-relation of all existence and aspires to fulfill the higher purpose of the divine manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Vitality means life-force — wherever there is life, in plant or animal or man, there is life-force — without the vital there can be no life in matter and no living action. The vital is a necessary force and nothing can be done or created in the bodily existence, if the vital is not there as an instrument. Even sadhana needs the vital force.”

“But if the vital is unregenerated and enslaved to desire, passion and ego, then it is as harmful as it can otherwise be helpful. Even in ordinary life the vital has to be controlled by the mind and mental will, otherwise it brings disorder or disaster. When people speak of a vital man, they mean one under the domination of vital force not controlled by the mind or the spirit. The vital can be a good instrument, but it is a bad master.”

“The vital has not to be killed or destroyed, but purified and transformed by the psychic and spiritual control.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 51-56

Author's Bio: 

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